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Merrill Aldrich

New Project Starting. Got Gas?

“Storage is just like gasoline,” said a fellow DBA at the office the other day.

This DBA, Mike is his name, is one of the smartest people I know, so I pressed him, in my subtle and erudite way, to elaborate.

“Um, whut?” I said.

“Yeah. Now that everything is shared – VMs or consolidated SQL Servers and shared storage – if you want to do a big project, like, say, drive to Vegas, you better fill the car with gas. Drive back and forth to work every day? Gas. Same for storage.”

This was a light-bulb-above-my-head moment.

Now that everything is consolidated onto shared infrastructure, all the way down to complete servers, the way we think about funding IT projects has to change too. It used to be that if you wanted to do a project, you would enumerate what the systems would cost, then price and go buy them. It was like this: this new project will need a bulldozer and an excavator, and maybe a Super-Zooper-Flooper-Do, let’s buy them for the project, and then they will arrive on a truck and we will install them, and the project will move forward. Many people are still thinking this way, but it’s now officially backward. We don’t buy discrete items for projects anymore, we buy a slice of shared infrastructure. And planning for that infrastructure has to change, or you will be, as many organizations are, forever, endlessly, exasperatingly short of it.

Gas Up Early

Imagine you and your friends are cruising down the road on a beautiful day, and someone decides you need to, simply MUST drive to Southern California. Do you at that point look around at each other and say “OK, who has gas money?” Perhaps. But hopefully not if you run a large business.

Worse, do you just start driving that direction, and when you get down to 1/8 of a tank, then ask everyone in the car? Again, maybe, but not too many people travel this way who are over 25. I think, anyway.

So the obvious question is, and I see this in many companies, why do we pile projects onto shared infrastructure like SAN storage and VM clusters without planning what infrastructure will be required to take us where we want to go? Answer: the organizations haven’t finished shifting their thinking. They think, hey presto, now we don’t need to buy those unique pieces of equipment any more, we just get “free” VMs and databases and storage from that magic bottomless pool. But that’s only the first stage. They haven’t realized yet, at an organizational level, who fills that pool of resources up, and how quickly, and how much it costs.

Watch the Gauge

Part of the difficulty is there’s no single “gas gauge” to tell an organization how the shared infrastructure is doing – you need some clever, forward thinking administrators to do that, and they, in turn need some tools. Further, it’s pretty hard today to estimate what “slice” of shared infrastructure a project will need, and how or whether to literally charge back for that resource. That means you have one arm making plans for all the places the organization will drive, with no idea how much gas is in the tank, and perhaps another arm with its eye on the fuel level, but which doesn’t know what the travel plans are. If you just start driving, at some point someone’s going to be standing by the side of the road with a thumb out and a gas can.

And here’s another gotcha – you can’t, from a practical point of view, keep on filling this tank one gallon at a time, while always near empty. It’s not safe or economical. Do you really want to buy disks or shared servers and try to install them monthly? Weekly?

So start thinking about your servers and storage as a commodity, and do it now. Try to get your organization to make this simple shift – we don’t buy pieces of equipment for projects anymore. We buy a platform, then estimate how much more of that platform we need for all upcoming work, and to sustain growth, then implement it.

Published Monday, September 10, 2012 1:32 PM by merrillaldrich

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Mike Fal said:

I'd also say you need to consider the octane of your gas.  It's great if you can fill up on that RAID5 grade stuff, but you'll get farther faster if you are willing to spend the money on the higher grade RAID10 octane.

Always nice for people to find analogies to relate technical concepts in easy to understand ways.  Good stuff.

September 10, 2012 3:53 PM
 

merrillaldrich said:

True, true. But changing the whole model is the harder step, it seems. I hope once people start thinking about the shared resource, then buying the right kind should follow. But then I'm always the idealist :-)

September 10, 2012 7:10 PM
 

JimBobDBA said:

THe real problem is the infrastructure folks would love to buy enough resources for the potencial growth of the organization but the finance folks don't want to pay for something that will not immediately be used.

September 11, 2012 5:31 PM
 

merrillaldrich said:

Yeah, that's the issue. How can we get past that?

September 12, 2012 10:31 PM

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