Life with no undo key? It’s risky business

Life with no undo key? It’s risky business
By John Martin, principal technologist, NetApp Australia and New Zealand

The Darwinian approach to business survival

A business mentor of mine once told me there are four rational reasons why a company invests its capital; to improve revenue, decrease costs, reduce risk or improve agility. Of these, agility is often overlooked, but this does not belie its importance. As Charles Darwin once said “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.

In the context of the data centre, agility is highly sought-after, but before a truly agile, software-defined, cloud-based data centre ‘Nirvana’ can be achieved, the ability to effectively deal with risk is a challenge begging to be addressed.

Risk and the ability to ‘undo’

I recently came across Kickstarter! project Robot Turtles, a board game created by entrepreneur Dan Shapiro that teaches primary school kids the basics of programming. It struck me that the ability to undo a mistake is one of the first concepts taught to the young programmers playing the game, and led me to think that if the undo key is so fundamental to software development, why is it not more central in the data centre?

IT infrastructure teams can learn a lot from these agile software development methodologies, to better position the broader business for competitive success. The lack of an effective equivalent to the undo key is the reason infrastructure agility is discussed far more than it’s practiced. Businesses don’t have the opportunity to take the same risks they could take in software development or even in a word processing document.

Life with no undo key

To put the challenges of data management in a context we can all relate to, imagine the data centre as a word processing document.

In order to undo a mistake, imagine if you had to open a new document and copy all the text from the first document and into the second, one paragraph at a time. Then, you would run a macro to read the formatting on the first document.

To undo a mistake, you would need to delete the entire paragraph containing the mistake, copy it from the second document, and run the portion of the script containing the formatting to the original document. Finally, you would just have to hope this process didn’t affect any of the other paragraphs, indexing or cross-referencing in the document.

Clearly, nobody would use a software program with those limitations, and yet that’s exactly the kind of process that infrastructure professionals have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s no wonder their perceptions of risk management are so different to those held by other business units.

This is particularly interesting to me in the context of private cloud. We talk a lot about the benefits of private cloud to our customers, and in spite of the many success stories and advantages, the adoption rate for private cloud is still low.

Even with an entire data centre built on software-defined infrastructure, without an easy way of testing new infrastructure builds, and correcting mistakes early, operations will never be able to support the level of agility that is increasingly required of IT. So long as internal IT lacks an effective undo-key, it will be stuck in the world of waterfall methodologies. A cost-effective, agile private cloud built on software-defined principals will remain a vision rather than of a present day reality.

An agile approach to risk

By contrast, agile methodologies deal with risk in a completely different way. They require you to build your progress in small, iterative steps, and test the results at the end of each step to gain some insight that you then turn into action. 

In this vein, NetApp uniquely provides a well-proven set of tools that offer a fine grained ‘undo key’ that works from a single document on a home drive, all the way up to a petabyte scale data center. This provides a simple solution that lets you innovate safely, and realise the benefits of private cloud on technology that is already in production in thousands of data centres.