Why Focus on Infra Agility?

Prasad Prabhakaran

This article discusses critical capabilities related to IT and Infra agility which will help businesses deploy faster than the competition while eliminating waste and reducing cost on ‘route to live’. We will also look at enabling and empowering developers while meeting control requirements at the same time.

Our experience has shown us that some organizations have been able to achieve this across both legacy and cloud native applications by leveraging and extending the GitOps model into Infrastructure teams.

The word ‘Digital’ grabs a lot of headlines that trumpet how it is radically changing customer behaviours. The customer-centric model demands more frequent experiments and continuous learning. This implies that IT departments have to deliver new features faster and with more demanding availability and security requirements.

If you ask the business “what is your biggest blocker on the journey of agility?” I bet the answer would be “IT and Infrastructure!”

Large enterprise IT applications cannot move into a cloud ecosystem overnight. The reality is that IT Infra teams need to support both new ‘shiny digital cloud native’ systems and renew the ‘legacy monolith metal locked’ systems. It has thus become more complex and harder to manage using current methods.

DevOps promises a high degree of collaboration across the full value chain; from business, software development, operations and IT infrastructure. But there are problems.

Problems related to ways of working

Most enterprise IT infrastructure organisations still work much as they did in the first decade of this century. They use a ‘plan-build-run’ operating model organised by siloed infrastructure components such as network, storage, and computing.

The traditional IT infrastructure organisation’s functionally-oriented structure imposes a particular working style—specialised resources completing tasks in a prescribed order, with many hand offs between groups. This working style causes innumerable delays.
Every time a request is passed to a new group, it goes to the bottom of that group’s task list, where it might languish for days. Frequently, tasks are sent back to previous groups for clarification, increasing wait times even further.

Essentially the Infra teams need to facilitate internal and external controls along with the required security policies and segregation of duties. The normal approach is to add another layer of approvals, which are painful to obtain. In this way organisations perceive manual approval layers as a ‘safety net’.

Problems related to last mile automation

In any typical large enterprise, as soon as a team delivers a new application, they would reach out to a central infrastructure team to put in place some form of virtualised infrastructure. In each of the next steps—delivering applications, operating, and maintaining them—there will still be a need to touch the infrastructure for a number of reasons.

This whole process is manual and risky. To make matters worse, only a few special ‘rock stars’ are usually allowed to do this. Every activity means reaching out to infrastructure and control teams resulting in a huge backlog of operational needs and service requests.

In addition to this challenge, application teams don’t always build applications that are easy to operate. So the infrastructure organisation has to make ‘extra’ efforts to prevent application failures.

Strategies for Infra Agility

New ways of working

In our experience, the most important thing to achieve Infra agility is to create a vision for the new infrastructure organization, in particular how the organization should operate and how quickly it should evolve. Several key questions will help IT and business leaders to define their ‘Infra agility’ vision for the organisation. These include:

  • What infrastructure service offerings should the organisation provide to application developers and business users?
  • Which services are owned and continuously improved by the Infra team?
  • What are the potential self-service areas?
  • How should the infrastructure organisation collaborate with application developers and how should the interaction model evolve over time?
  • How quickly should the organisation push to engineer automated solutions and adopt cloud technologies?
  • How can the overall Developer hand off to the Infrastructure team process be reconfigured to emphasize controls earlier – and reduce/eliminate added review layers at deployment time?
  • What new capabilities can be introduced to ‘shift –left’?
  • What are the new outcome metrics/KPIs to experiment?

In conclusion, the structures, processes, and skills of a team that focuses on operations can be very different to a team that focuses on engineering infrastructure offerings.

Automation and service delivery approach

While ways of working simplifies and brings alignment towards a service value stream, it’s equally important to change the Infra team mission from building and operating custom solutions, to enabling developers to deploy standardised infrastructure on their own.

A key capability needed by Infra teams is to be able to deliver the infrastructure as a product. Not just the core infrastructure, but also the full range of utilities to operate it. This enables application development teams to autonomously operate according to their own plans. It changes the way the Infra team delivers the productised services. The required security, policies and controls are also implemented as code, which brings the appropriate type of checks and balances for the services.

Enabling application teams to deploy changes and maintain the underlying infrastructure on their own brings IT Infra teams closer to a DevOps model. This accelerates the cloud adoption journey while simultaneously ensuring the requisite controls are in place.
With this call for a big change in the application side the ‘consumers’ of infrastructure will have to adapt to a self-service approach. Although the application teams were DevOps teams by definition, many of them still needed to learn about operations for infrastructure for production ready systems – and particularly those subject to regulatory, audit, compliance and risk review.

To improve controls, scalability and reduce cost via automation, a large Financial Services client used our proven framework to migrate legacy VMWare applications to new VMWare and Docker deployments to AWS. This helped to reduce privileged access, provide regulatory audit and integrated Dev/Ops dashboards with reporting capabilities for all software, networks and databases.

Another one of our banking clients sought to have the IT Infra team reflect on a new value stream of services and started experimenting with small cross functional teams to reduce hand offs. We helped them to minimise process hand offs by aligning a cross functional team towards the end-to-end delivery of specific service offerings. We got the Infra leadership behind this new way of working and empowered teams not only to deliver service offerings, but also to improve their delivery by streamlining processes and engineering fully automated solutions. Communities of Practice also helped them bring alignment on good practices and new approaches.

To help organisations achieve Infra Agility, Holley Holland have partnered with Cloud Control AppZ. This makes existing Infrastructure and Operations teams relevant and agile while empowering App development teams to get the maximum benefit out of DevOps practices and CI/CD pipeline investments.

AppZ enables central IT Infra and Operational teams to help and accelerate flow and time to market, as well as lowering costs per change, improving resiliency and strengthening security via continuous monitoring of each applications status. This is regardless of which CI/CD pipeline is used and agnostic to how it is deployed. (Public or Private Cloud).

Holley Holland and Cloud Control’s AppZ brings Infra Agility capabilities to Enterprises to allow them to be innovative and agile, while at the same time providing the necessary controls unobtrusively for both legacy and resilient applications running on Kubernetes regardless of the size and complexity of the organisation.