Who Stole the Infrastructure?


by Malcolm Fry


What happened to infrastructure management? Where did it go? Did I miss the memo? There seems to be an insidious scheme afoot to eliminate infrastructure management from the IT lexicon. Nobody seems to consider it important anymore, but not so very long ago, in its halcyon days, infrastructure management was the phrase on everybody’s lips, as the key component in what is still called ITIL. And what does ITIL stand for? The Information Technology Infrastructure Library.

So where has it gone? Has it been usurped by that young upstart, IT service management (ITSM)? Or are they indeed one and the same? We need to make up our minds, because as far as I am concerned, you can get by with a well-managed infrastructure and basic service management, but you cannot survive with the reverse scenario: strong service management and a weak infrastructure.

Let’s quickly review the ITIL v3 definition of the IT infrastructure:

All of the hardware, software, networks, facilities, etc. that are required to develop, test, deliver, monitor, control, or support IT services. The term IT infrastructure includes all of the information technology but not the associated people, processes, and documentation.

That’s some list. It covers everything that has to be in place so ensure that when users fire up their workstations in the morning, all of the required technologies are in place and functioning correctly. Infrastructure management is the bedrock upon which the rest of IT is constructed. But are we guilty of putting too much emphasis on service and not enough on infrastructure management?

Bringing Infrastructure Management Back in Focus

In the mid-1980s, when the first iteration of the IT infrastructure library was being developed, infrastructure was so important, it was part of the title. However, twenty-five years ago, the infrastructure was far less complicated. With today’s complex infrastructure, we need to bring infrastructure management back in focus. 

Say you were building a house. You would first need to understand the customer’s needs—how many bedrooms, which direction the ustomer wants the house to face, and so on—and draw up a blueprint. That’s the consult phase. The next step is building the house, installing the interior fixtures and fittings, and landscaping the exterior, ensuring that the customer’s needs and expectations are met and your work complies with building regulations.

Building a house is not unlike managing IT service and support. First, make sure you understand the customer’s needs and expectations; next, build an infrastructure that complies with governance regulations; then, develop your service level agreements, operational level agreements, and so forth. And just as a poorly built house can be a disaster, a poorly designed and badly built infrastructure could likewise be catastrophic.

Consult for service strategy and service design. The first key role that infrastructure management plays is that of consultant. In an ideal situation, the strategy for a new service would be developed independent of current services. In reality, we are often constrained by some elements within the current infrastructure. For example, back when organizations began phasing out their mainframes, it meant that any strategies for upcoming services had to exclude mainframes from their evaluations. Service strategy needs to consult with infrastructure management to determine: 

  1. The scope of current technologies, 
  2. The plans for new technologies that are to be introduced, 
  3. The constraints of current technologies, 
  4. Which contracts relate to current technologies, and 
  5. The configuration of current technologies.

It is a myth that a strategy can be successfully developed without taking into account current services because most new services will have to work in conjunction with the current services. Therefore, data from current services provide a valuable resource for enabling service strategy and helping you make decisions from a practical, as well as an esoteric, standpoint. In fact, in the current global financial climate, a new service strategy should require the service to work within the current infrastructure. Without infrastructure management, it would be very difficult for service strategy to make well-rounded strategy decisions that deliver “fit-for-purpose” solutions.

Service design is a complicated stage, littered with traps and that can be avoided through good infrastructure management. And when it comes to service design, infrastructure management has two roles to play, as consultant to the design phase and builder/architect of the infrastructure. A service portfolio and demand management are two key components that derive from the service strategy, but these have to be converted into plans and projects to facilitate the implementation of a new service. This is where infrastructure management comes in: consult with service design to help to produce plans, based on reliable, accurate data, that will integrate with the current infrastructure and, at the same time, retain the integrity of the current infrastructure. This particularly applies to demand management because although a proposed new service could work utilizing current technologies, there may not be enough capacity to meet the demands of the proposed services. Who knows what capacity is available? Come on down, infrastructure management.

Build a “fit-for-purpose” infrastructure. Once the service design team has produced the plans, then the infrastructure management team has the difficult job of building the infrastructure that will successfully support the new service. This not only means purchasing and implementing technologies, but also creating an environment that will meet the customer’s requirements. The service design should include service level management, which, in turn, should include service level agreements that specify the levels of service that must be achieved once the new service has been implemented. In addition, service design is responsible for creating a service catalogue that identifies which IT customers will use the new service.

Creating SLAs and a service catalogue without having a true sense of the infrastructure could result in an underperforming service, which could antagonize your customer base and have an overall negative effect on business services. A well-managed service should monitor the infrastructure on an ongoing basis and, as such, be able to quickly provide service design with any required data concerning the current infrastructure.

That’s the easy part. Now the infrastructure management team has to build the environment into which the new service must fit. There’s real danger associated with this step, because lack of knowledge of the current infrastructure could have three outcomes:

  1. Late implementation of the new service, 
  2. A service that does not meet service levels, and/or 
  3. Unnecessary expenditure.

Late implementation is often the result of new additions to current infrastructure that didn’t gel with the current infrastructure. When a service fails to meet its service levels, it’s often because the service design team did not consult with the infrastructure management team and there was not enough information to determine whether the current infrastructure could cope. These situations usually lead to unnecessary expenditures.

Building an environment has become more and more complicated as an increasing number and variety of new technologies have entered the market. The current infrastructure often has to be altered to accommodate the technologies required by the new services, from smartphones to cloud computing. For example, it may be that to transition a new service on a system requires that the web browser currently in use needs to be upgraded to a specific release of the web browser on every remote device. Who has which release at the moment? Are all of the remote devices capable of installing the new release? Exactly what is the scope of this transition? These are some of the questions that would need to be answered by the infrastructure management team. This should be a straightforward task, but without infrastructure management the entire transition is a time-consuming gamble.

Once the infrastructure has been built, it has to be implemented. This is the point where service transition and infrastructure management meet. Bear in mind here that if a request for change was submitted at the beginning of the project, then planning for implementation would have been an ongoing task for infrastructure management and not the last-minute panic it usually is. It is the responsibility of infrastructure management to ensure that the resources for new services are successfully implemented through change management. It should be clear by now that a well-managed infrastructure will handle this task better than a mismanaged infrastructure.

Support the environment. The final touch point for infrastructure management is its relationship with service operation, where services are monitored and maintained. This is a crucial step for IT because the performance of implemented services must be planned for and maintained to meet and exceed agreed upon services levels.

One underrated relationship is that between infrastructure management and problem management, where the root causes of problems are investigated and corrected. Without infrastructure management, isolating and identifying root causes takes longer, and the actions taken to eliminate the problems often cause more problems. Service operation and infrastructure management need to work closely together to maintain and improve current services.

Achieving Balance

So why is it that so many organizations no longer place high emphasis on infrastructure management? I am not advocating that service management be taken less seriously, only that infrastructure management not be forgotten and that it should be restored to a place of importance. If you look at some of the components that relate to infrastructure management, the need for proper focus revolves around capacity management, availability management, technical management, applications management, IT operations management, configuration management, and event management. These components do not fit easily into service management because these areas are primarily concerned with maintaining and building the environment so that IT service can concentrate on managing the customers. So, to whoever stole infrastructure management, watch out because we are coming to take it back!

Moving Forward with IT Service Management

Now, with that off my chest and infrastructure management back in its rightful place, what does the roadmap look like going forward? First of all, keep in mind that if the car doesn’t work, the roadmap is useless. Likewise, be sure that your infrastructure can deliver before you talk to your customers. Remember, customers and users are often confused because the customers own the users (hint: cUStomERs). Generally, service levels are agreed upon with the customers, but it is the users that utilize the infrastructure. Begin by recognizing that the infrastructure is a critical component in supporting both customers and users. The key is understanding which infrastructure components are required to support your individual services (i.e., what is the infrastructure required to support accounts payable?).

ITIL is a lifecycle approach, which means that we have to be able to measure and manage the performances of the services that we provide. For example, we used to manage capacity by components (i.e., do we have enough server power?). Now we need to measure by the services, (i.e., do we have enough end-toend capacity to support stock  control?). Again, this means that we must have control of the infrastructure. A well-built configuration management database could be the key here. We need to acknowledge the critical role that infrastructure management plays, then identify the infrastructure, apply ownership to that infrastructure, and make managing the infrastructure a priority.

Before we make the mistake of becoming too infrastructure-centric, we must keep in mind that service operation is still a vital component. If the infrastructure is the heart of ITSM, then service operation is responsible for making sure that the heart stays healthy, fit, and capable. Why? Because with functions such as change, incident, problem, and request fulfilment, service management is the finger on the pulse of the infrastructure, monitoring the heartbeat and ensuring ongoing health.

If you have a really good infrastructure in place, you could get by without service management. If you have terrible infrastructure management, service level management is not going to get you anywhere. It’s a balance. And, it’s SIMPLE: Service-based Infrastructure Management Processes Lead to Excellence.

 

As a recognized IT industry luminary with over forty years of experience in information technology, Malcolm Fry, an independent executive advisor, possesses an unparalleled breadth of knowledge on and experience in IT business and technical issues. He is the author of many publications on IT service and support, including ITIL Lite: A Road Map to Full or Partial ITIL Implementation (The Stationery Office, 2010), and he is a highly sought-after source for technology journalists. Malcolm was also a member of the ITIL v3 Advisory Group and a mentor for the Service Operations book. In April 2009, he was awarded the prestigious Ron Muns Lifetime Achievement Award for IT Service and Support.

Tag(s): process, framework and methodologies, practices and processes

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