Architecture, Administration and Automation
At first glance these three topics may seem to have nothing in common apart from the fact that they all begin with the letter “A”. They are however intimately linked as we will see.
Architecture in an IT sense has many definitions (one per practising IT Architect at the last count) but I regard it as a the set of principles around which you design your IT. To keep it simple I’ll restrict the discussion to infrastructure. I have heard much debate about the difference between architecture and design. I have a simple view – if products are mentioned its a design. As an example the decision to utilise virtualisation is an architectural one but whether to use Hyper-V or VMware for instance is a design decision.
So now we’ve decided what architecture is what its impact on administration. Quite simple really. One of the biggest problems facing IT administrators today is the complexity of the environment they are working in. You can easily find yourself in an environment with six versions of Windows (NT, 2000, 2003, 2003 R2, 2008, 2008R2 – I know the first two are out of support but I bet a lot of organisations are still using them) and that’s before you add in the complexity of 32 vs 64 bit and standard vs enterprise (or even datacenter) editions. Add a few applications – multiple versions and editions of SQL Server, a few Exchange servers, SharePoint, web servers, a raft of third party applications - plus file and print gives you a wide spread of skills that are needed. We mustn’t forget Windows itself plus the necessary additions of Active Directory and DNS. We haven’t even got to the client systems and their applications which further muddy the waters. Then we get to servers – virtualised plus one or more of the big vendors (usually more) and a whole bunch of different models add to the fun. The odd Linux or Unix server just to keep us awake and all the network, remote access and other issues and we end up with a very busy set of people.
It is the IT architect’s responsibility to architect/design complexity out of the environment. Standardise on specific sizes of servers, a single virtualisation platforms, minimise the number of Windows versions etc, etc etc. This makes the administrator’s job easier because there is a relatively simple, standard set of items to wok with.
One of the biggest causes of downtime is human error. Reducing the complexity of the environment helps to reduce the possibility of error. The other way to reduce human error is to introduce as much automation as possible. The administrator has a responsibility to embrace and use automation to make their jobs easier and reduce errors. The architect has the responsibility to ensure that the components selected in the architecture/design can be automated using the standard toolset within the organisation.
Architecture + Automation = improved Administration