Opinion: IT grows out of control

  • Tom Yager (InfoWorld)
  • 18 February, 2004 12:27

Technology is out of control. Or at least, it has achieved a level of complexity that puts it out of reach for most humans, and increasingly, even IT professionals.

In our everyday lives, we take for granted the technological safeguards that protect us. We accept the limit-ations imposed by these safeguards because they bring us a measure of convenience. I don’t mind being unable to raise the power of my microwave oven or disable its door locks so I can warm everything in the room.

If you feel like you’re losing control, don’t fight it; just let it go. IT users, administrators, and management are holding tightly to the reins that keep their systems and services on the air. Complexity is forcing IT to choose between fine-grained manual control or self-running solutions that strike a balance between safety (or reliability, or availability if you prefer) and convenience.

A quality common to all solutions that achieve this balance is that they distance the consumer or operator from the technology’s inner workings.

Sometimes doing things the old way was just a pain in the neck – who misses the fine-tuning knob on their TV? The technology reached a level of complexity that made it impossible for humans to control safely and effectively.

That’s where we’re heading with IT. You have too many meters to watch, too many buttons and dials to operate. There are too many different kinds of devices requiring too much care. There are too many internal and external points of vulnerability to realistically secure. There is too much data to back up, and it changes too quickly to permit zero-cost recovery (as in no downtime, no lost data). It won’t be long before it’s impossible to maintain first-line fail-overs for critical systems, because rapid change will be the norm not only for data, but for services, applications, and hardware configurations as well.

Now is the time to think about the cost of maintaining your current level of control over your infrastructure. Soon, you’ll be too busy deploying new services to think about preparing for the next 10 years. IT will be subjected to a year-to-year growth slope similar to the one seen in the boom years.

I know that what IT is doing now won’t suffice to keep increasingly complex solutions running. I’m not certain which evolutionary path I’ll advocate, but an outline is beginning to take shape. In the end, systems and infrastructure must be designed to keep consumers (that’s you, me, your users, and your technical staff) as far away from the inner workings of hardware and software as possible. Honestly, the biggest risk that growth creates is that IT is required to stand 15cms from a growing set of grinding gears with a wrench and an oil can.

Most of the solutions proposed by HP, IBM, and Sun involve concealing complexity. The buttons that humans used to push are now pushed by software, but the buttons are still there and the pushing is as subject to human error as ever. It’s handy that software saves us the inconvenience of physically poking buttons on the front of our servers. Hiding complexity is helpful. But the only long-term solution is to phase out those minute controls so that neither humans nor their electronic proxies need to operate them.

No matter how addicted your people are to buttons and dials, they have far better things to do.