Getting the jump on shadow IT

IT architect Keith Townsend says companies must get out in front of shadow IT rather than view it as an unmanageable threat.

As advances in cloud computing and microservices put more power in the hands of end users, the role of IT is changing as well. At the recent Interop conference, IT architect and consultant Keith Townsend explained why IT organizations must shift from a mentality of building and maintaining systems to one of supporting what businesses are doing in the trenches, which includes providing support for cloud services.

"Developers and business users are going to the cloud," Townsend said at a fast-paced session titled "Holistic IT Operations in the Application Age." "We call it shadow IT, but the business calls it 'getting work done;' and cloud services are what makes it happen."

In a hall packed with IT pros, many heads nodded when Townsend asked if anyone had gotten a support ticket for a cloud service they didn't know the company was using. "What happens when you are disrupted like this and your IT operation has to adjust to a hybrid infrastructure because of Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, and open source technologies? The list goes on."

Digital disruption impacts every industry. Learn how to win in an era of constant change.

Define how you want to interact with the cloud

With so much buzz about cloud computing, IT departments may be charged with carrying out a "cloud first" initiative by the CEO or executive staff. In such a scenario, Townsend said, "it's critical you define what a win is, whether it's creating extensions of your data center or a bigger transformation where the way you interact with your infrastructure changes." In other words, get clarity about what's expected and communicate in a detailed way what you can deliver.

"Part of moving up the stack is having a business conversation [with management] so you understand what is driving the consumption," he said. "You may get a mandate to move DevOps to the cloud because someone read that that's what Netflix did. But what Netflix does is very different than the natural process of developing tools that create business value."

He added, "There's this concept of a hybrid system where we can have a single pane of glass that lets us magically move from the data center to the public cloud or even an application on a private data center. But that's not a realistic vision of where the private and public cloud data center is today, given the latency issues." 

For all the promise of cloud computing, Townsend said, the computer industry hasn't come up with comprehensive control and management solutions.

Cloud and infrastructure management tools often add a layer of complexity that can be hard to keep up to date. "One of the things we really need to get right is the ERP of the data center," Townsend said. "There needs to be a central point of truth or system of record for the infrastructure." 

Pay-as-you-go pricing makes cloud attractive to managers

The cloud makes it easier for developers and others to initiate projects without IT's help. The key word is initiate, because by the time IT gets involved, there may be nothing easy about the path forward.

Townsend gave an example of a developer who wants to do research using a large data set, but her department doesn't have the money for the extra storage arrays needed. However, if the developer can get 150 terabytes on a major cloud provider for $50 a month, "that's a new center of gravity," he said. "Data has gravity."

The company in this scenario might have a big Oracle system and the research data in the cloud. "But what if I have to do research on both and can't afford to move what's in the cloud back into the data center? How do we back up block storage versus object storage? Infrastructure has become a commodity," Townsend said, "but that doesn't mean it's easy."

Whether you're expanding your existing infrastructure or moving aggressively to the cloud, there is no such thing as a magic easy button for IT.  While it's easy to get excited about new cloud services and other new technology, 80 percent of the IT budget is usually spent on existing operations.

Townsend's final lesson: "You have to get creative to get the money you want."