4 Keys To Delivering Self-Service IT – Giving Users Control Of Their Infrastructure (Dell IT Cloud Journey Series)

If you want to leverage self-service IT infrastructure to put your IT consumers in the driver’s seat, you have to make sure you have a clear windshield.

It is a realization that Dell Digital, our IT organization, is grappling with as we begin to increase the number of capabilities we offer via a self-service, including platform, database, compute, storage, and networking services.

Building our cloud environment using Dell and VMware technology has created infrastructure that has lowered our cost to serve, reduced provisioning time and increased agility. By automating many of our processes, we have begun to give our users direct choices over which of the infrastructure services they consume.

But that is just the beginning. As we transition to being a service provider enabling our consumers to subscribe to infrastructure services, we are fundamentally shifting who’s accountable for the success of the overall infrastructure design.  Namely, the owners of the applications and services are starting to take responsibility for design patterns and the overall results of what type of infrastructure they choose from our menu.

That means it’s not just enough to provide users with the tools to consume infrastructure services without talking to an engineer, we must provide them with much more.

Here Are 4 Key Focus Areas to Managing That Transition.

Transparency: Putting a Window On The Kitchen

How do we give the consumers of our infrastructure services— i.e. our developers and application owners— an unprecedented view into the state of their infrastructure and the implications of the way that they’re using it?

We need to embrace transparency. IT has traditionally shielded the true state of IT infrastructure from external organizations, based on a long-held notion that it was key to keeping sanity between the development and infrastructure teams. The mindset was that users wouldn’t understand the complexity or, if they did, they would drive engineers and operations crazy with questions and concerns.

The infrastructure kitchen is often a messy place after all. I like to use the example of having a window into that kitchen. It leads to a renewed focus and energy on keeping it orderly and clean.

What’s more, as we start to make consumers responsible for the outcome of their infrastructure decisions, we have to provide them real-time feedback on the state of their infrastructure elements. Are they working within operational parameters (SLAs)?  Is there some other systemic problem occurring that may be impacting their services?

In the traditional IT world, the only time end users know anything about what’s going on with their infrastructure is when there is a major performance issue or service disruption.

However, as we shift to a customer-driven, real-time, self-service model, that approach must change. You can’t give the consumer of infrastructure responsibility to take actions using levers on their own if they are not able to see what those levers do. They must understand the outcomes of actions at the infrastructure layers, as well as what is happening on up in their application stacks. They need to have a view of all their assets so that they have a comprehensive picture of the risks and results of the changes.

Handing off fundamental responsibility to consumers requires full transparency into performance and interruption data.

One example of our transparency strategy in action is the use of cutting-edge monitoring and performance tools. Dell Digital is rolling out VMware Cloud Foundation, which includes VMware vCenter Operations Manager (VCO)— an automated operations management solution. VCO collects performance data across the infrastructure, from individual virtual machines and disk drives to entire clusters and datacenters allowing us to build a view of the application ecosystem.

This end-to-end view allows consumers to improve their ability to find errors and resolve issues leading to potentially the most important aspect to transparency – an increase in trust between the consumers and the infrastructure. Once that trust is in place, we are positioned to enable more comprehensive self-service.

Self-Service: Getting Out Of The Way

Enabling self-service means making each infrastructure service consumable by users without requiring them to involve infrastructure engineers in their process. From Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines that automate application building, testing and deployment; application program interfaces (APIs) to infrastructure; and a front-end portal to manage the infrastructure elements, we are offering a suite of capabilities for consumers to control their own infrastructure destiny.

Putting consumers in control solves some frustrating infrastructure delivery issues. Users won’t have to worry about having a project or deployment blocked because infrastructure engineers are working on another, higher-priority project and can’t spare time for them. It also eliminates the tendency for users to hoard infrastructure because of the perceived risk of not having additional capacity when they might need it. They can instead trust in the self-service infrastructure allocation process, allowing IT to focus on accelerating higher level services.

We are continuously working to enhance the interfaces on our Dell Digital Cloud service to allow users access to infrastructure services alongside information showing stability, performance, SLAs, costs, and other insights. We also provide all of these services through an enhanced set of APIs to allow our users to utilize our services to create capabilities and configurations using the automation and interfaces they are most comfortable with.

Acceleration: Enabling More Automation For Data And Application Services

Automating many of our typical processes is allowing us to give more attention to the higher layers of the application stacks, such as version changes for database services or the addition of replication to large data sets. Our engineers are now working to identify and automate away those tasks that are most time expensive for our consumers, such as life cycle upgrades to entire application ecosystems.

These higher layer infrastructure tasks can be very manual today and require many of our most valuable resources to coordinate, plan and execute. More automation via our self-service initiative will free up our developers to focus on adding direct value to the business. These value propositions will of course be offered as additional self-service APIs and choices in our front-end interface to infrastructure.

Overall, as more items in the ecosystem become standardized and automated, our time to complete tasks becomes more predictable and closer to real time, allowing improvement to our overall efficiency.

Efficiency: Making Our Cloud The Best Cloud

The foundation for our transition to self-service, software-defined is efficiency. We are focusing in on a set efficiency metrics in our infrastructure services such as reliability, velocity, cost, performance, security, lifecycle management, and compliance.  This efficiency focus is a major driver in our ability to outperform public cloud options and to make our Dell Technologies cloud the best cloud to run workloads in our multi-cloud strategy. However, this focus extends across all elements including the public clouds as part of our capability to seamlessly leverage an array of tools to meet users’ needs.

Like most other infrastructure organizations, efficiency tends to draw a lot of attention and focus as it should.  In our infrastructure we have made it an imperative ensure that efficiency doesn’t push transparency, self-service, and acceleration to the sidelines. We have to drive all four in order to be the best we can be.

The great news here is that Dell Technologies has many tools to help drive that efficiency and cost out of an infrastructure ecosystem. We use most of them and work with our product teams to explore emerging technology products to do even more.

In closing, you can see how our focus on these four areas is driving us to a new era in hybrid cloud execution inside Dell Digital. As I tell our customers all the time, one of the best luxuries of all for us is that we work for a company that has the best portfolio of technologies to deliver the best infrastructure experience out there. It helps us focus on the approach for how we deliver rather than worry too much about what technology we will use. Until next time, thanks for reading.

About the Author: Kevin Herrin

As Vice President of Dell Digital’s (Dell’s IT organization) Infrastructure Platform & Engineering organization, Kevin Herrin is responsible for global data center, platform, database, public and private cloud, network, voice, and call center telephony infrastructures. He is also responsible for the financial management of those infrastructure platforms. Kevin is a strategic, multi-dimensional technology executive, with a proven track record of delivering profitable growth and organizational impact through large-scale, disruptive technology and its business applications. He is an energetic change agent and visionary respected for his skills in structuring and growing complex teams, operating in chaotic environments, and developing relationships with colleagues, clients and executives. Prior to joining Dell, Kevin was founder and CEO of Technology Pathfinders Consulting, a consulting firm offering client organizations DevOps, Cloud Engineering and Transformation, and Operational Optimization. He has also held a variety of engineering and leadership roles at Virtustream, EMC, VMware and AT&T.