IT always has been, a factory for new terms, acronyms, and abbreviations. Shifting nomenclature exacerbates already accelerating technology complexity. Even tech pros with good intentions can use buzzwords that cause confusion, may have little actual meaning, or worse, perpetuate misconceptions. Organisations seeking to use new technology for innovation and competitive edge are particularly vulnerable. Engineers need to mitigate risk in the face of new unknowns by relying on proven processes. It’s human nature—we call them rules of thumb. The problem is that some of our most useful rules may no longer apply.
Considering the state of IT in 2019, how can we improve results by identifying and updating long-held IT assumptions when we’re planning resource and budgets for upcoming projects? Let’s consider what to reboot or update for 2019.
1) DevOps is the main driver for containerisation
The container revolution continues, with 451 Research estimating that the market could be worth as much as $2.7 billion by 2020. Furthermore, according to SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2018, almost half (49 per cent) of U.K. IT professionals surveyed ranked containers as one of the most important technology priorities today, a significant jump when compared to the report from the previous year, in which just 15 per cent of U.K. IT professional surveyed planned to develop containerisation skills.
However, there remains a lot of confusion about DevOps and containers. Often, these terms are used interchangeably, but one doesn’t equal the other. Though most vendors discuss DevOps in terms of processes and tools, it’s instead about humans and considerable cultural change. It’s a shift in mindset that rejects monolithic, waterfall ops, and encourages fast deployment, feedback loops, and monitoring everywhere. DevOps projects are broken down into smaller units conducive to an iterative way of working. The goal is to accelerate configuration change rate, optimise processes, and provide better support services. If you believe in DevOps, it’s obviously good, but if your team isn’t there, then it’s not an obvious goal.
By contrast, containers are a technical solution to simplify workload portability, add flexibility, and reduce costs across computing environments. It’s a tool, not “DevOps in a box,” and “tools” live in IT. The fierce pressure to meet steep digital transformation goals is driving the container revolution and is more visible in countless DevOps learning sessions. Container deployments aren’t only helping application developers move faster and participate in infrastructure management, but ultimately help them to become another commodity technology function delivered in the most cost-efficient way possible. Cost efficiency is the real mission of IT, not innovation.
2) Containers are just small virtual machines
Another unfortunate misconception is that moving to container deployments means enterprises will no longer have to pay what they’ve come to think of as a “VM tax.” Tired of the costs that sometimes come with vendor lock-in, some enterprises believe moving their applications to containers automatically reduces costs more than partnering with a third-party for virtualisation. This tendency to think of containers as small virtual machines simply isn’t true. Virtualisation infrastructures create portability by virtualising what is largely physical infrastructure, including servers, compute, and memory. With containers, the goal is flexibility and leveraging orchestration.
It’s about being able to conceive of all resources as ephemeral resources that can be brought into existence as needed. Containers capitalise on the real value of cloud, delivering a better compromise on affordability versus functionality. This helps tech pros navigate the other common assumption that lifting and shifting existing apps to the cloud will save you money. In fact, it may be more expensive.
Container strategy should focus on taking advantage of modularity, whether in the cloud or on-premises. For cloud, tech pros are used to delivering a universal set of primitive services—storage, compute, queuing, messaging, and cognition. The cloud brings the ability to burst—applications are available on-demand, but resources can also be allocated dynamically over time. Containers make that easy.
3) Automation is the end of your IT career
“You’ll automate your way out of a job!” How many times have you heard or thought that?
Despite its transformative potential, automation is still perceived as a threat to technology professionals’ careers. However, in 2019, we expect that tech pros will realise that contrary to widespread “automation anxiety,” they can automate themselves into a job rather than out. As a result, we’ll see a dramatic acceleration of programming culture at organisations that haven’t experimented in this space before.
Many technology professionals working in hybrid environments are already on the cusp of this transition, as their ability to use APIs (application programming interfaces) matches skills with GUIs (graphical user interfaces) or CLI (command-line interface). It’s a breakthrough for most admins to manage cloud workloads with greater competency using automation. Spending the workday using new programming skill superpowers is an added benefit.
As admins support more cloud workloads, we’ll see a greater number of tech pros become successful at using APIs in collaboration with the GUIs and CLIs they know so well. Defining not only networks, storage, and services, but many other processes, such as container management services, delivers real benefits to admins focused on systems and infrastructure rather than just applications. Application ops engineers are typically willing to learn new API-based tools more quickly than network and storage teams. There’s more physical complexity for network and storage professionals, but the change rate is lower than the change rate for application deployments and configurations.
It’s clear that DevOps, containers, and automation will remain top buzzwords for the year ahead, and it’s vital that tech pros truly understand the market drivers and benefits of leveraging these emerging technologies. Investment in innovation should always be grounded in the question of which technologies will yield the greatest impact. It’s important to look to in-house experts – the tech pros – to ditch the misconceptions driven by the media and marketers, and truly understand which investments will deliver on digital transformation.
Patrick Hubbard, Head Geek, SolarWinds
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