Who feeds Paris? Changing the mindset of IT

Today I’m giving a keynote at Cloud Connect Silicon Valley entitled “Who Feeds Paris?” The question comes from a book called “Naked Economics” by Charles Wheelan.  What he means by “who feeds Paris?” is that there are millions of people who live in Paris and eat at least three times a day.  How could a government ensure that just the right amount of food is sent to the right grocery stores and restaurants to be consumed by the citizens?  Specifically, he states “…somehow the right amount of fresh tuna makes its way from a fishing fleet in the South Pacific to a restaurant on the Rue de Rivoli.  A neighborhood fruit vendor has exactly what his customers want every morning – from coffee to fresh papayas – even though those products may come from ten and fifteen different countries.”  The reality is that it’s impossible for any central agency to control all this.  It’s just too much for any one person or group to keep in their heads.  The superiority of a market economy over central government planning is so clear that it seems obvious to us.

But if it is so obvious, why is IT still run using central planning?

All IT projects still go through a central planning model.  Anyone wanting to make changes must fill out a long change request and all changes must be centrally approved.  New hardware and resources are planned months in advance and provisioned after much discussion and planning.  When you start thinking about it like this, is it any wonder that IT can’t keep up with business demands?  The reality is that we need to start thinking differently about how we run IT, and cloud offers us a tremendous opportunity to accomplish this.

So what is cloud, anyway?  It’s all about self-service.  Cloud allows users to get the resources they need at the push of a button.  Indeed, that’s really what makes a market economy work so well.  People figure out what they need and they go and get it. They don’t ask anyone and they don’t wait for something to happen.  They go to a store to buy what they want and may even pay a premium to get it faster.

How is self-service realized in a cloud?  The first key ingredient is virtualization. Not only do you need compute virtualization, but you must also have storage and network virtualization.  Virtualization abstracts software from the hardware it’s running on, and as all of these resources are virtualized, it enables full control of everything through software.  Then you need to automate.  You leverage the control in software to effectively script everything.  This gives you the “press of a button” functionality. A single button can now do an amazing amount of work that would take forever if done manually.  But due to automation and abstraction in software, it can be done automatically in a moment’s time.  The next step is to create a “portal” where users can come to self-service.  This portal allows them to provision resources, manage the lifecycle of existing resources, and much more – it gives them all the options at a push of a button.

It’s not just a technology issue; it’s also a mindset issue. Up until this point, the flow for IT has been to receive a request, then after much planning, provision resources for that request. So it’s “receive request, then provision.” In the new self-service world, requests will come in whenever they do, and IT must be prepared for them. Thus the mentality must be “provision, then receive request.” This is the fundamental change in mindset that must occur.

Now, I know what most IT admins reading this are thinking: “wouldn’t this lead to total chaos?”  Well, let’s look back at Paris.  We know that it does not have a central planning economy, nor does any Western, industrialized city.  This means that the government has no direct say or knowledge of most of the activities that occur in the city.  But is there total chaos?  Of course not.  It’s just the opposite.  We have some of the most advanced cities in human history.  And why is this?  Well, it’s because the city government has control in the right places.  If you want to create a restaurant, then you need to get approval.  If you want to do major exterior work to a building, you need approval.  But small things like changing the menu at your restaurant or updating the interior of a building don’t need approval.  So the government strives to achieve the right balance between adding control points and letting people do what they want without oversight. (And, sure, we all can argue as to whether these city governments get it right!)

We can do exactly the same thing in IT, and that’s where management comes in.  Enterprise management tools can give you exactly the type of governance you’re looking for.  They will allow you to create policies up front that will be checked each time a self-service request is made.  For example, small requests for a couple of VMs do not need approval, but for three to eight VMs you need the employee’s manager’s approval.  And for 10+ VMs, you need a VP to sign off.  These are just examples, but you get the idea.  The right management tools give you the right level of control.

In addition to governance, management tools also give you operational control.  No longer will IT be getting specific requests for resources up front.  Instead, employees will just grab them through self-service.  This means that IT has to rethink issues like capacity planning.  Typically capacity planning is done based on planned, upcoming projects, ensuring that additional capacity is ready by the time the project kicks off.  Instead, in the new cloud model, IT will have to look at the aggregate growth of the overall enterprise cloud, and provision additional capacity based on that trend.  Again, this aligns closely with real city governments.  They don’t special case every family moving in and out of the city.  They look at aggregate trends to ensure there’s adequate housing stock growth in the upcoming years.

In my view, while cloud certainly involves technology changes, probably the biggest change is that of culture and mindset.  A central planning model for IT is simply no longer tenable.  IT has to start thinking of itself as a government overseeing a free market.  When you make this mindset shift, you realize that a government should no longer focus on dictating what’s on the menu of each restaurant, but instead focus on ensuring the roads are in good shape and that the electricity and plumbing work.  In IT terms, this means ensuring that the virtual infrastructure is up and running, that it’s meeting the SLAs as negotiated with users, and that there is a robust self-service user portal.  If you can build this virtual city for your users, you will allow them to move as fast as they can and to unleash innovation – and we, at VMware, are excited and ready to help you build and manage your own virtual city. To hear more, you can watch the replay of my keynote here.

So, who feeds Paris?  The right answer is to let Paris feed itself.

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