IT has never been easier -- or harder

Beneath all the virtualization, automation, and plush Web GUIs lurk obscenely complex puzzles to solve

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I often hear and read comments about how "easy" IT has become. I suppose if you compare IT of a decade ago versus IT now, there's some truth to that statement.

Nowadays, we can completely automate server instance creation and management, deploy complex application frameworks with a few clicks of a mouse, and troubleshoot server problems from the bottom up without leaving our desks. Not so long ago, much of this would have required actual heavy lifting in the form of racking servers, manual OS installations, visits to the data center, complex cabling and networking configurations, and so forth.

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But as time goes on, we have continually adapted and refined these methods to ease administration, streamline common tasks, and lighten our load somewhat. Mind you, we haven't reduced complexity -- IT systems are more complex than ever before -- but there's much less manual labor involved and fewer repetitive tasks. We've been working on abstraction of IT fundamentals, moving things up the chain. This requires significantly more planning and effort at the outset, but the rewards and savings are instantly realized and quickly surpass the cost of the initial effort.

Virtualization is of course the driving force behind this progress, now encompassing not only server virtualization but also storage virtualization, application virtualization, and network virtualization via concepts like VMware's VXLAN. It takes much more skill to build these components, but less to drive them on a day-to-day basis. We're no longer constantly building and rebuilding our IT infrastructure, but building it once and leveraging that investment over longer periods of time.

But make no mistake, IT is not "easy."

The mundane operations are simpler and even self-service in many cases, but we're still beholden to the vagaries of our field, the thoroughly unexpected. On one hand, you might point to the AWS outage of a week ago. It was an extremely lengthy disruption, highly visible (especially to non-IT folks), and apparently caused by human error and compounded by a lack of planning. All the automation in the world wouldn't have helped prevent that breakdown, and it might generally make the problem worse. Amazon will be paying for that blunder for a long time.

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