Ask anybody with kids this question: “What is your worst experience as a parent?” You may expect to hear something like their fear when their kids aren’t home on time, or their concern when their children struggle socially, academically, emotionally or otherwise. Or perhaps their self-doubt regarding limits, permission, health care and so on.
Nope. In my opinion, the worst parenting experience is when your children lie to you. It tears down your entire world. In their early years, the lies can seem cute—for example, the “no” you receive after asking “Did you eat the chocolate cake?” while they stare at you with a chocolate goatee. Or the “no” that comes after you ask “Did you color on the walls?” even though the child has no siblings. But mostly, it just hurts. Maybe less when they are little and cute and more when they are bigger and should know better.
It’s not just our kids, though. Most people dislike being lied to by anyone. Worst of all is when it’s someone we trust. When someone or even something we have come to trust and rely on is purposefully lying, it affects every other interaction—past or future—that we have had or will have with that entity.
And few groups are as sensitive to untruths as we IT professionals.
I know few IT professionals who trust their WAN provider—a feeling that is due in large part to lies. I’m not talking about mistakes or miscommunications. I’m talking bald-faced whoppers. Like the time the tech on the phone told me he had looped my circuit: it looked good on his end, and the problem was inside my network. He said so as I stood with the unplugged T1 connector in my hand. When I pointed it out, he paused and then said, “Oh, I guess I was looking at a different circuit. Hang on...”
Or the time, after several calls about consistently slow service, when a tech insisted it was a misconfiguration on our end. That is until I sent a simple ping output that showed every other packet being dropped. Then, and only then, did the tech discover that the bandwidth statement on the provider’s equipment was set to half of the actual circuit speed we had ordered.
I highlight these two situations, but you probably have your own similar stories. I'm not complaining about honest mistakes, hard-to-diagnose failures or the like. They happen, and the technical term for that situation is a regular day at the office.
These “fluctuations in the truth” are partly why the move to hybrid IT environments, where part of your infrastructure is in the cloud while the rest of it remains on premises, has many of us concerned. I’ve often said that to successfully run a data center, you need three things:
- Responsibility (a no brainer, as we’re usually made responsible for things before we’re even asked)
- Accountability (ditto)
The last one is the rub. In a hybrid IT environment, you are responsible and accountable for the performance of that capricious beast known as “the Internet,” but how can anyone have authority over that? It turns out that one more “-ity” mitigates your lack of authority over your carrier’s network (or their carrier, or the carrier used by the service at the other end of the wire). It’s visibility. If you can see the problem—and more importantly, the specifics of the problem—you can speak openly and honestly about it, even if you can’t change it. For example, most people’s view of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) looks something like the following:
In this scenario, if the service is not responding, a data center manager can check the internal network (it’s probably fine) and call the SaaS provider (they’ll probably say their end is fine). Then begins the long and frequently fruitless support call with the ISP to determine whether the problem lies somewhere in the middle.
Exacerbating the challenge is that Internet routes use multiple paths, meaning data movement is highly variable even within a single conversation. It’s also highly fluid, meaning the path(s) you are using now are different from those you used 10 minutes ago. But what if your view of your SaaS environment was the following?
This picture shows the devices inside the ISP’s cloud. It also shows any latency the device introduces as packets flow through it, as well as any alternate routes. This information—both for the current state and historical usage—tells you where your packets are going once they leave your premises, not to mention how fast they are traveling.
The most recent research from SolarWinds, the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2017: Portrait of a Hybrid IT Organization, found that 95 percent of North American organizations moved critical applications and IT infrastructure to the cloud over the past year. Furthermore, 69 percent of organizations currently use up to three cloud-provider environments, with the largest percentage using two to three. But 9 percent use 10 or more. So if your company is already using the cloud to some extent and that trend will only continue, how do you, the data center manager with both accountability and responsibility, validate that things are working properly?
The only reasonable answer is that you need the ability, usually in the form of IT monitoring tools, to gain visibility into your entire environment: on premises, in the cloud and everything in between. These tools must be able to show a variety of device types—routers, load balancers, storage, servers and so on—from a range of vendors. They must also to account for the virtual layer, whether it’s virtual servers or virtual networking, as much as the physical layer. And because your IT environment will only grow bigger and more complex as it extends further into the cloud, the tools you select have to scale with the number and type of devices.
Parenting educators teach that the best way to avoid the pain lies from your kids is to avoid giving them the chance in the first place. Instead of asking “Did you eat the cake?” simply say, “I can see you had some cake, huh?” Then start the conversation there. The same is true with your ISP, and really, any service provider. Applying this kind of thinking lets us avoid the crushing disappointment of hearing them say, “Uh, everything looks fine on our end.”
About the Author
Leon Adato, SolarWinds Head Geek and long-time IT systems management and monitoring expert, discusses all things data center in this ongoing series.