Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Launching All Things Infrastructure

The Internet is full of opinions on a lot of topics, mostly exciting.

And that's a problem -- infrastructure rarely conjures up exciting images in the collective minds of computing professionals. Infrastructure is that boring stuff that sits just below the exciting stuff -- below the applications, below the pretty graphics -- below the stuff that people consider creative.

Exciting infrastructure is actually an oxymoron -- you don't want your infrastructure to be exciting by definition. Oh, sure, fast CPUs are all the rage -- and some people get very excited about the speed of computation of, say a farm of computers operating as a Beowulf cluster, for example -- but that's not the excitement I'm talking about here. The exciting moments of infrastructure typically involve the unexpected. Unexpected loss. Unexpected down-time. Unexpected performance.

No, if you do a lot of infrastructure, you want it to be boring as paint drying. I've done my fair share of enterprise-class implementations of things. I've been around this equation for a really long time, actually. I've based a lot of my career on the best ways to deploy and manage solid infrastructure. Along the way, I've come to some conclusions that have motivated me to publish this blog.

Being boring, under the radar and behind the scenes makes for a challenge of its own. Management rarely understands what's going on (until things get exciting) -- and then its too late. There isn't a whole lot of blog or interesting print devoted to building and maintaining the stuff. Complicating matters, the shifting landscape of computing changes the infrastructure equation frequently(albeit a bit slower than the development side of the house). All of these vectors contribute to what I perceive as a vacancy when it comes to the interesting (to me) topic of enterprise infrastructure management.

I had an epiphany when I realized this vacuum existed. I realized that I had been one of the people happily computing along, building infrastructure and not really sharing techniques, solutions, observations or challenges -- and I have no excuse for not sharing.

Infrastructure? Boring?

I realized that I could talk about this a lot -- and that probably there would be an audience of people that would rarely find the topic boring.

All Things Infrastructure will be about the challenges of building and maintaining not just the infrastructure, but the needed human resources that must inevitably accompany the work. People are needed -- and as the enterprise grows more complex, so will the work and so will the resumes of the people being managed. The culture must grow in lock-step as well. Complication breeds more complication.

It would probably help a bit at this point to explain that I'm won't be talking much about small shops or even medium-sized companies. My experience is with medium to large implementations of J2EE application infrastructure. This isn't cheap stuff, by definition. It requires planning and forethought or things will be more expensive. Complicating matters, the metrics to prove this prior statement are embedded in choices that are not simple. People may make these choices based upon broken assumptions or guesses which are costly and unlike other choices, very hard to undo.

I'll close this post with a promise: What I relay here will be from the gut, based upon my experiences and observations. It won't be based upon anything sales-related or tainted by advertising whim. Infrastructure done right lasts a long time. The teams that manage that infrastructure must be stable units. Stability requires longevity and longevity requires truthfulness. There are no shortcuts when it comes to the truth.

--Paul Ferris January, 2008

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