Category Archives: IT infrastructure

What IT Can Learn From Sochi


By Ben Stephenson, Journey to the Cloud

It’s no secret that the Winter Olympics in Sochi has had its fair share of problems. From infrastructure issues, to handling incidents, to security, to amenities for athletes, it seems like anything that could go wrong has gone wrong. So, what can IT learn from what has unfolded at Sochi?

Have your infrastructure in place beforehand

There are plenty of examples from Sochi about the proper infrastructure not being in place before the games started. There was unfinished construction around the city that consisted of exposed wires, uncovered manholes and buildings that weren’t finished. Many of the hotels were also unfinished. Some didn’t have working elevators, completed lobbies, or even running water (not to mention toilets that don’t flush). There’s a great picture circulating the web of an employee spray painting the grass green outside of an Olympic venue. Even the rings at the opening ceremonies malfunctioned. There were also safety concerns regarding the infrastructure of some of the ski / snowboard courses. The women’s downhill ski training runs were delayed after only three racers on the opening day because it was deemed too dangerous because one of the jumps was too big and athletes were “getting too much air.” In addition, Shawn White pulled out of the slopestyle event over safety concerns.

Sochi Elevator

Sochi Bucket Lift

Sochi grass


The first takeaway for IT from Sochi is to have your infrastructure in place and running properly before trying to start new projects. For example, if your organization is going to rollout a virtual desktop initiative you better take the proper steps beforehand to ensure a smooth rollout or you’re going to have a lot of angry people to deal with. For example, you need the correct WAN bandwidth between offices as well as the correct storage requirements in place for suitable performance. You also need to ensure that you have the correct network infrastructure in place beforehand to handle additional traffic. Finally, you need the proper server infrastructure set up for the redundancy and horse power necessary to deliver virtual desktops.

Make sure you have a way of handling incidents as they arise

There are always going to be unexpected circumstances that arise during the course of an event or project that have the potential of throwing you off. For example, there was a pillow shortage for Olympic athletes in Sochi. The following message went out to surrounding communities

“ATTENTION, DEAR COLLEAGUES! Due to an extreme shortage of pillows for athletes who unexpectedly arrived at Olympic Village in the mountains, there will be a transfer of pillows from all apartments to the storehouse on 2 February 2014. Please be understanding. We have to help the athletes out of this bind.”

I’m not going to pretend like I know what the plan was ahead of time to deal with supply shortages, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it wasn’t to borrow used pillows from strangers.

Sochi Pillow

IT needs to make sure they have detailed plans in place BEFORE starting a project so there is a protocol to deal with unexpected issues as they arise. For example, a few months back GreenPages moved its datacenter. Our team put together an extremely detailed plan that broke out every phase of the move down to 15 minute increments. They devised teams for specific phases that had a communication plan for each team and also devised a backup emergency plan in the event they hit any issues the night of the move. This detailed planning of how to deal with various issues in different scenarios was a big reason why the move ended up being a success.

Have proper security measures in place

Another picture that is circulating the web was taken by a journalist who returned to her hotel room to find keys in her door and the door wide open…even though she left the room with the door shut and locked. There were also reports that visitors in Sochi faced widespread hacking on their mobile devices. IT departments need to make sure that the proper security measures are in place for its end users to protect corporate data. This includes implementing authentication and encryption, using intrusion detection technologies, and edge scanning for viruses.

Sochi door lock


When dealing with top talent, make sure they have the tools to get their jobs done & stay happy

Olympic athletes certainly qualify as top talent, as they represent the best of the best at their crafts in the entire world. When dealing with top talent, you need to make sure they have the tools to get their jobs done and to stay happy. The yellow colored tap water in Sochi is probably not all that appealing to world class athletes who may be looking to quench their thirst after a long day on the mountain. I can’t imagine that the small bathroom with multiple toilets, but no stalls or dividers, goes over very well either.

Sochi Drinking Water

sochi toilets


In the business world, it’s important to retain top talent. IT can help keep employees happy and enable them to do their jobs in a variety of ways. One example is to make sure you’re offering the applications that people actually use and want. Another example is empowering employees to use the devices of their choice by implementing a BYOD policy.


Take these lessons from this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi and apply them to your IT strategy and maybe one day you too can win your very own shiny gold medal.


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Optimize Your Infrastructure; From Hand-built to Mass-production

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I write a lot about cloud and cloud technologies, specifically around optimizing IT infrastructures and transitioning them from traditional management methodologies and ideals toward dynamic, cloud-based methodologies.  Recently, in conversations with customers as well as my colleagues and peers within the industry, it is becoming increasingly clear that the public, at least the subset I deal with, are simply fed up with the massive amount of hype surrounding cloud.  Everyone is using that as a selling point and have attached so many different meanings that it has become meaningless…white noise that just hums in the background and adds no value to the conversation.  In order to try to cut through that background noise I’m going to cast the conversation in a way that is a lot less buzzy and a little more specific to what people know and are familiar with.  Let’s talk about cars (haa ha, again)…and how Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry.

First, let’s be clear that Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, he invented a way to make automobiles affordable to the common man or as he put it, the “great multitude.”  After the Model A, he realized he’d need a more efficient way to mass produce cars in order to lower the price while keeping them at the same level of quality they were known for. He looked at other industries and found four principles that would further his goal: interchangeable parts, continuous flow, division of labor, and reducing wasted effort. Ford put these principles into play gradually over five years, fine-tuning and testing as he went along. In 1913, they came together in the first moving assembly line ever used for large-scale manufacturing. Ford produced cars at a record-breaking rate…and each one that rolled off the production line was virtually identical to the one before and after.

Now let’s see how the same principles (of mass production) can revolutionize the IT Infrastructure as they did the automobile industry…and also let’s be clear that I am not calling this cloud, or dynamic datacenter or whatever the buzz-du-jour is, I am simply calling it an Optimized Infrastructure because that is what it is…an IT infrastructure that produces the highest quality IT products and services in the most efficient manner and at the lowest cost.

Interchangeable Parts

Henry Ford discovered significant efficiency by using interchangeable parts which meant making the individual pieces of the car the same every time. That way any valve would fit any engine, any steering wheel would fit any chassis. The efficiencies to be gained were proven in the assembly of standardized photography equipment pioneered by George Eastman in 1892. This meant improving the machinery and cutting tools used to make the parts. But once the machines were adjusted, a low-skilled laborer could operate them, replacing the skilled craftsperson that formerly made the parts by hand.

In a traditional “Hand-Built” IT infrastructure, skilled engineers are basically building servers—physical and virtual—and other IT assets from scratch and are typically reusing very little with each build.  They may have a “golden image” for the OS, but they then build multiple images based on the purpose of the server, its language or the geographic location of the division or department it is meant to serve.  They might layer on different software stacks with particularly configured applications or install each application one after another.  These assets are then configured by hand using run books, build lists etc. Then tested by hand, etc. which means that it takes time and skilled effort and there are still unacceptable amounts of errors, failures and expensive rework.

By significantly updating and improving the tools used (i.e. virtualization, configuration and change management, software distribution, etc.), the final state of IT assets can be standardized, the way they are built can be standardized, and the processes used to build them can be standardized…such that building any asset becomes a clear and repeatable process of connecting different parts together; these interchangeable parts can be used over and over and over again to produce virtually identical copies of the assets at much lower costs.

Division of Labor

Once Ford standardized his parts and tools, he needed to divide up how things were done in order to be more efficient. He needed to figure out which process should be done first so he divided the labor by breaking the assembly of the Model T into 84 distinct steps. Each worker was trained to do just one of these steps but always in the exact same order.

The Optimized Infrastructure relies on the same principle of dividing up the effort (of defining, creating, managing and ultimately retiring each IT asset) so that only the most relevant technology, tool or sometimes, yes, human, does the work. As can be seen in later sections, these “tools” (people, process or technology components) are then aligned in the most efficient manner such that it dramatically lowers the cost of running the system as well as guarantees that each specific work effort can be optimized individually, irrespective of the system as a whole.

Continuous Flow

To improve efficiency even more, and lower the cost even further, Ford needed the assembly line to be arranged so that as one task was finished, another began, with minimum time spent in set-up (set-up is always a negative production value). Ford was inspired by the meat-packing houses of Chicago and a grain mill conveyor belt he had seen. If he brought the work to the workers, they spent less time moving about. He adopted the Chicago meat-packers overhead trolley to auto production by installing the first automatic conveyer belt.

In an Optimized Infrastructure, this conveyor belt (assembly line) consists of individual process steps (automation) that are “brought to the worker” (each specific technological component responsible for that process step….see; division of labor) in a well-defined pattern (workflow) and then each workflow arranged in a well-controlled manner (orchestration) because it is no longer human workers doing those commodity IT activities (well, in 99.99% of the cases) but the system itself, leveraging virtualization, fungible resource pools and high levels of standardization among other things. This is the infrastructure assembly line and is how IT assets are mass produced…each identical and of the same high quality at the same low cost.

Reducing Wasted Effort

As a final principle, Ford called in Frederick Winslow Taylor, the creator of “scientific management,” to do time and motion studies to determine the exact speed at which the work should proceed and the exact motions workers should use to accomplish their tasks, thereby reducing wasted effort. In an Optimized Infrastructure, this is done through understanding and using continuous process improvement (CPI), but CPI cannot be done correctly unless you are monitoring the performance details of all the processes and the performance of the system as a whole and then documenting the results on a constant basis. This requires an infrastructure-wide management and monitoring strategy which, as you’ve probably guessed, was what Fredrick Taylor was doing in the Ford plant in the early 1900s.

Whatever You Call It…

From the start, the Model T was less expensive than most other hand-built cars because of expert engineering practices, but it was still not attainable for the “great multitude” as Ford had promised the world. He realized he’d need a more efficient way to produce the car in order to lower the price, and by using the four principles of interchangeable parts, continuous flow, division of labor, and reducing wasted effort, in 1915 he was able to drop the price of the Model T from $850 to $290 and, in that year, he sold 1 million cars.

Whether you prefer to call it cloud, or dynamic datacenter, or the Great Spedini’s Presto-Chango Cave of Magic Data doesn’t really matter…the fact is that those four principles listed above can be used along with the tools, technologies and operational methodologies that exist today—which are not rocket science or bleeding edge—to revolutionize your IT Infrastructure and stop hand-building your IT assets (employing your smartest and best workers to do so) and start mass producing those assets to lower your cost, increase your quality and, ultimately, significantly increase the value of your infrastructure.

With an Optimized Infrastructure of automated tools and processes where standardized/interchangeable parts are constantly reused based on a well-designed and efficiently orchestrated workflow that is monitored end-to-end, you too can make IT affordable for the “great multitude” in your organization.