Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Service Level Automation Defined

What is it that businesses really want from their IT organizations? Bill Coleman tells the story of the CIO of a Fortune 500 Silicon Valley firm that put it this way:
"I measure myself on only two things, how many quality services I provide to my business, and how cheaply I do it."
The guts of what IT is all about is service levels. Each organization establishes--either explicity or implicitly--target goals for how IT resources will perform to meet business objectives. Service level goals can be made for any measurable trait of the IT infrastructure, including value, utilization, quality, performance, availability and cost (both to acquire and to operate). These goals can be set at a technical level (e.g. CPU utilization, transactions per second on a database, etc.) or business level (e.g. number of orders processed per day, percentage of orders resulting in a complaint, etc.).

Now, computers are supposed to automate the functions and processes required to meet business objectives. So, why are there so few solutions for optomizing IT processes to meet these same objectives?

A big part of the problem is the tight coupling of software to hardware that I have discussed in several recent blogs. If its expensive to realocate resources to meet new business needs, then we will tend to minimize the number of changes we allow in the datacenter. Optomizing anything manually takes weeks or months of planning, and is usually too little too late anyway.

There are a variety of point solutions to specific steps in the IT process. Provisioning is a good example, as is trouble ticketing. However, none of this automates anything based on meeting service levels, they just cheapen the human processes already in place--processes that tend to be focused more on saving an individual time than in optimizing the datacenter as a whole.

Focusing on adjusting the environment to meet business goals takes a whole new way of thinking. Decoupling software from hardware, etc., is a first step. Once we've done that, we need to leverage relatively recent technological advances that allow us to delivery the software to the hardware in an automated, optimal fashion...

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