Spanish Inquisition

Our Chief Weapon Is…

Spanish InquisitionMonty Python, that most British of eccentric comedies, had a sketch in it around nobody expecting the Spanish Inquisition.  A scarlet-befrocked cardinal bursts in through the door and declares “Our chief weapon is surprise.  Fear and surprise.  Our two main weapons are fear and surprise — and ruthless efficiency.  Err — amongst our chief weapons are….”

This seems to me to be a pretty good analogy to what we are seeing in the IT industry these days.  The role of specialists in a world where everything is dependent on everything else leads to some interesting — and often unexpected — results.

IT is still being pushed to the buyer using speed and feeds — this server can do more GFlops than that one; this storage array can do more IOPS than that one; this network can carry more bits per second than that one.  However, this is meaningless where the world’s fastest server is attached to a wax cylinder for storage, or where wet string and aluminum cans are being used as networks.  The world’s latest sub-photonic multi-lambda network is of no use at all if all your storage can manage is to free up data at a few bytes per second.

Users are getting confused — they identify the root cause of a performance issue and invest in solving it, only to find that the “solution” doesn’t give the benefits they expected.  All that has happened is that the problem has been moved from one place to another — the paucity of disk performance has been solved, but the server cpu performance can’t keep up with the data; the servers have been updated, but the network is now jittering all over the place.

Even worse is where the three main variables of server, storage, and networks are all dealt with, and everything looks great.  Green markers on all sysadmin screens; everything is pointing toward absolutely fantastic performance from the IT platform.  The IT manager is preparing a shelf at their home for the “Employee of the Millennium” award that is surely coming their way.

Except that the help desk manager has red flags on their screens.  Users are calling in with application performance issues; unintelligible VoIP calls; connectivity drop outs.  Sure, the data center is working like a super-charged V12 engine; the problem is that the wide area network connectivity is working far more like a 1940s John Deere tractor.

To get that special award, the IT manager has to take a more holistic view of the entire ITC (IT & comms) environment.  As virtualization and cloud continue to become more the norm, focusing on specialisms will not provide the overall optimization of an organization’s IT platform that is required to make sure that IT does what it is there for — supporting the business.

End-to-end application performance monitoring is needed, along with the requisite tools to identify root cause of an issue alongside of tools that can then play the “what if?” scenarios.  If I solve the problem of a slow server here, what does this do to the storage there? If the storage is upgraded, how will my LAN and WAN deal with the increased traffic?

Only by understanding the contextual dependencies between the constituent parts of the total platform can IT be sure of its part in the future of the organization’s structure.

However, dressing up as a cardinal and charging in to management meetings shouting “Nobody expects the effective IT manager!” may at least get you noticed….

Image credit: Simzer (deviantArt)

About the author
Clive Longbottom