Originally published in the February 1995 issue of Advanced Systems.

Online's Unix Enterprise Column by Harris Kern & Randy Johnson]

The IT/Unix revolution

What good is all this new Unix technology without a RAS support infrastructure?

We travel all over the world preaching our rightsizing success stories. Without fail, broad smiles break out in the Unix choir as we testify (proof, not hype, of course) about the many strategic and financial benefits Unix distributed-computing systems have bestowed upon Sun. Heads bow, however, to hide disdain when we start preaching the gospel of RAS (reliable, available, and serviceable) disciplines and their importance to the success of business computing systems. That's a legacy concept Unix professionals tend to dismiss as mainframer brainwashing. What else would you expect coming from two ex-mainframers who have 35 plus years of legacy systems management experience? Technology is much better than it used to be when RAS was invented -- high-availability products like RAID, for example. So you don't need RAS for today's systems, right?

Wrong! What good is all this new technology without a support infrastructure? The RAS disciplines comprise your enterprise's information technology (IT) infrastructure -- the standards and processes that ensure your systems, whether mainframe or Unix client/server, stay up, running, and available to your organization.

Now, don't get us wrong: RAID is fantastic technology. But it's the disciplines that make the whole thing work, not just the equipment. And don't get us wrong about IT, either. While the preservation of some legacy concepts, particularly the RAS disciplines, is essential for successful operation of business computing systems, nevertheless IT needs to dramatically change, too. Here's why and how.

Re-engineering IT
The traditional IT model of centralized computing equipment and services has worked well over the years, so why change it when adopting distributed computing? It really has nothing to do with distributed computing, just as RAS isn't exclusive to mainframes. Today, to stay competitive, your whole organization needs to continually improve customer satisfaction -- price/performance and service -- while trimming costs. The same is true for IT within your organization: The users are your customers. You must continually improve your systems and services to better satisfy your customers.

Our first step in re-engineering Sun's IT was to come up with a methodology. We called it "personalized communications." No, it's not just some new buzzwords; it means real change. Personalized communications means going out and working with users/customers, understanding their needs and requirements to effectively run the business. It means taking a proactive role, not hiding behind the data center walls and just reacting to problems. Help users in your organization become successful.

Most users do not understand, and usually couldn't care less, about their hardware environment, operating system, and network. What they care about is getting the right information at the right time so they can do their jobs. This is IT's best opportunity to really make an impact on the organization -- by actively discovering needs and providing the right systems so users can do their jobs better. Now that's "right"-sizing.

Selling IT
Personalized communications also mean selling your IT services to users, not just shoving them down their throats. Granted, many of you still can dictate IT practices and procedures to your users even as you transition your organization to client/server, distributed systems. When we started down our rightsizing road at Sun, things were a bit different -- we weren't in any position to shove anything down users' throats. We had to sell our centralized IT services to users because most of their systems already were decentralized Unix systems and users were very skeptical of our centralized controls. But we both learned valuable lessons. We discovered how powerful the selling concept is to making IT more effective and economical. They learned the value of 99.9 percent systems availability.

A good way to start selling IT to your users is to compare your services and their costs against other vendors' offerings. Give your users the option to contract services from others! We did just that at Sun. For example, we went out and evaluated several other vendors who provide system administration services and gave our customers, Sun's business units, a comparison with our standard set of services. The good news is that we in Sun's IT are less expensive (whew!) for the same coverage. We sold our services to our users. For them, it was like any other shopping trip -- who has the best price for the best service.

That's just a start. We also developed a process called the Unix Production Acceptance (see "Our #1 priority," June 1994). It is the ultimate in IT-user personalized communications. The UPA is the process we use for implementing and supporting users' mission-critical distributed applications -- our IT infrastructure for maintaining 99.9 percent systems availability.

The UPA documents the process and guides an application from development, through testing, and into production. Most importantly, the UPA lets Sun's applications development happen outside the Data Center, at user sites where the business is defined and so are its computing needs.

This way, IT moves out of the glass house and gets directly involved with users to help them develop a successful system. At the same time, our users understand and use IT's support model. It all boils down to communication between enterprise functions, and IT selling, not dictating, its services.

New IT
The new generation of IT removes the outdated differences between support and development, as well as between mainframers and Unix users. It's personal communications; it's a two-way street.

The new model means empowering users to define their systems and IT to set standards and practices to manage those systems. You may be surprised how effective this model really is and how even little things can send powerful messages that assure users the systems are there to serve them. For instance, instead of having standard naming conventions, as is common practice in the mainframe world, we let our users name their servers whatever they want. Now, at Sun, the production servers supporting marketing are named Golfball, Sandtrap, and so on -- hey, they like golf! IT manages those servers regardless of what they are called. There's no need to establish dictatorial standards over what isn't important -- there are plenty of other areas that need standards. []

[Harris & Randy photo] Harris Kern (harris.kern@sunworld.com) is Sun's Open Systems Migration Consultant for NAAFO Market Development. Randy Johnson (randy.johnson@sunworld.com) owns R&H Associates, a full-time rightsizing consultancy in Boulder Creek, CA. R&H Associates helps people worldwide in implementing and supporting client/server infrastructures based on their proven methodologies. © 1995 Harris Kern and Randy Johnson. All rights reserved.

Pick up a copy of their book Rightsizing The New Enterprise: The Proof Not the Hype, SunSoft Press/PTR Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-132184-6, or their new book Managing The New Enterprise: The Proof Not the Hype by Kern, Johnson, Hawkins, Law, and Kennedy, SunSoft Press/PTR Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-231184-4. Browse SunSoft Press offerings at: http://www.sun.com/smi/ssoftpress

[Amazon.com Books] You can buy Managing The New Enterprise and Rightsizing The New Enterprise at Amazon.com Books.

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