In the early days of IT, computing departments lived in ivory towers, dispensing reports to users when the mainframe felt like it. As enterprise technology evolved, user needs remained in the back seat, with application development cycles that trickled out new features on an IT department schedule that ranged from months to years.
Cloud computing and continuous software development have changed things tremendously with a new, dynamic environment that gives more power to enterprise employees. They can now use a mixture of enterprise endpoints and mobile devices to access applications wherever they are, whenever they want. Those same users now expect IT to deliver the features that they want, when they need them. The user experience has finally taken center stage.
Hybrid cloud infrastructure has been a key element of this user-centric story. When employees access an application, it draws on a constellation of computing resources spread across multiple data centers, disparate locations, and even countries and continents. It is the IT organization’s responsibility to marshal this array of on-premises and off-premises components into a single, seamless user experience.
Finding the needle in the technology haystack
While this may give employees the same high-quality software experiences that they expect from hyperscale consumer services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google's vast range of consumer-facing apps, it creates potential headaches for CIOs.
Unless IT administrators can pinpoint the source of performance problems, that seamless user experience suffers. Response times increase. Data glitches may occur. What was a single source of information and functionality at the user’s fingertips becomes an unreliable obstacle. What was once a joy to use becomes a burden.
The problem is, cloud environments differ from traditional monolithic infrastructures, which delivered single-server applications via a local area network. There, it was relatively easy to find the root cause of a performance problem.
Today, that simple technology stack has morphed into a cloud environment that forms the basis for an intricate, highly distributed technology haystack. A problem's cause is a needle, buried deep within.
Faced with such complexity, it's not surprising that many IT teams face challenges in finding those root causes. While cloud computing may provide a seamless user experience on the surface, the underlying infrastructure is often fragmented. Applications typically rely not on one cloud, but on many. Different business departments have built their own cloud computing infrastructures over time and only understand the technology resources within their own silo.
That can blind administrators to what's going on within their own IT environments because there is no single view of the entire architecture or service delivery path. When a performance or accuracy problem affects user experience, such blinkered or narrowly focused views of IT infrastructure make root-cause analysis difficult if not impossible.
This all endangers the user experience. Employees may find themselves at the mercy of unknown conditions that no one seems able to control. Productivity suffers, and support departments are unable to help.
As companies expand their multi-cloud architectures, drawing on a variety of on-premises and public cloud environments, the situation will only become more complex and opaque.
A joined-up approach
To quickly find problems and preserve the user experience, CIOs must embrace a new, joined-up approach to enterprise IT that begins by rethinking the metrics used to gauge and measure IT success.
The user experience is the new yardstick for IT success, underpinned by metrics such as application performance and the speed of new feature delivery. Modern CIOs will know that they are winning when users report that they can meet their business goals using these systems, or quickly update them with the features they need.
This holistic view of IT involves framing our view of it not through infrastructure silos, but from the perspective of business services and the complex web of dependencies between them. CIOs that view IT architectures in terms of business services can quickly understand how they affect each other. It will help them to prepare for new computing paradigms such as microservices, which atomize software resources still further and create even more complex connections between them.
This new view of computing requires technology platforms that can analyze underlying traffic flows between those services. By building up a data-centric view of service dependency, they can create a 360° view of these environments from the application layer all the way down to the network.
By using these tools, corporate IT departments can get a single, holistic view of their computing architecture – and ensure that they keep the user in the driver's seat.
~Written by Danny Bradbury. Danny is a technology journalist with over 20 years of experience writing about security, software development, and networking. He covers a mixture of business and consumer tech.