We have officially reached the point in our long and storied IT careers where we, as old fogies, have earned the right to complain about the next generation of users and professionals. Just as the gray beards before us complained about the way we did things, so too is it our turn to moan about the state of affairs. Today, I’d like to point out how driving IT to the point of pushing simple buttons is destroying the way we do things.
The fact that IT work has been able to be distilled into a series of simple button pushing exercises is very thrilling. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort building devices and frameworks that take the hard part out of building devices and frameworks. We no longer have to invent languages to build things or hardware to do things. Instead, we can refine our programming capabilities or use general purpose hardware in new combinations to provide environments for our users.
That’s one of the things that is driving people to the cloud. Cloud isn’t just about exciting hardware or keeping your data in other places. It is just as much about predictable, repeatable frameworks and workflows that let people accomplish tasks without much thought. Just like the assembly line of the eighties, we are take boring repetitive tasks away from people and giving them to machines that don’t get bored and love repetition. Doing that drives costs down and makes people more productive.
But what happens when those processes break down? What happens when the magic smoke is let out of the machine? That’s when the real issues start cropping up. Perhaps the framework developers are great at figuring out what exactly went wrong in their solution. However, they’re likely clueless about all of the things that their solution is built upon. Imagine if a mechanic couldn’t diagnose the engine or the various subsystems of your car? You’d have a fit, right?
The troubleshooting level of modern framework engineering only extends to the edge of their solution. Once you get into a problem with a service they’ve leveraged, such as AWS, then the buck is passed and the troubleshooting must move to a new team. The problem with having your teams building next-generation IT services on top of existing things is that they lose visibility into the things they didn’t build. It becomes a vicious cycle when those first-level services aren’t reliable enough to keep your solution running.
Push A Button, Push A Button!
As bad as things are for IT departments in a push-button world, it’s even crazier for users in the same boat. That’s because users understand two extremes of service delivery. Either the thing is working or it isn’t. There is no in between. In the old days of non-instant IT, users would just keep asking until a thing was done.
Today, things are much different. Automation and orchestration has allowed frameworks and platforms to be able to instantly create services. That means users have been able to create their own platform for building things. So anything that isn’t instant is broken. Take, for example, a recent discussion of bandwidth from the spring ONUG meeting. An IT professional was frustrated that it took the better part of a day to transfer 1 petabyte of information across the country. He wasn’t upset that it failed, mind you. He was mad because it didn’t happen in five minutes. Non-instant things are broken.
The story repeats itself over and over again. Networking resources that can’t be automatically provisioned are broken. Cloud services that need more than a few minutes to spin up aren’t working correctly. Mobile apps and sites that don’t instantly pop up on your phone must be working incorrectly. The patience level of a user isn’t even a tenth of the average IT professional. IT pros know why something is running slow. Users fall back on slow things being broken.
The problem is investment. Given an infinite amount of funding, everything can be fast. But people are trying to find ways to not pay for things in today’s IT world. Maybe they want to pay for AWS because it works. But OpenStack gives the promise of AWS for free. Except things like OpenStack and Ansible aren’t free. The currency you use to pay for them is time.
Time is just as precious a commodity as money. We don’t get refunds on time. We can’t ask for discounts on time. We can only invest and hope that there is a payoff down the road. The real outcome of this time investment looks very similar to the environment we have today. Things should just work and allow us to build new things on top of them. But that missing time investment is the key to the whole enterprise. If we don’t spend the time building and extending things, then we won’t have the expertise we need to fix things when they break. That time investment also helps everyone appreciate just how hard it is to build things in the first place. And that’s something no button will every duplicate.