For the on premises and private cloud environments, NetApp IT has a mature and productive operational support model that is well managed, has proven processes and established metrics, and results in little or no business disruptions. But that wasn’t always the case. When I started with NetApp in late 2011, we were experiencing Priority-1 (P1) outages almost every day. We found that the more change introduced, the more volatile our IT environment became, and the more our teams behaved in a reactive manner.
Fast forward to today, and we are providing a predictable, steady-state mode of operations regardless of the changes being introduced into the environment. We have seen a dramatic reduction in P1s and can go months without one! All very good stuff, yet I see our operational support model shifting with the world of cloud and our adoption of a SaaS-first (Software as a Service) strategy.
Impact of a SaaS-first cloud strategy
NetApp IT plans to move 70-75% of our corporate business apps to Software as a Service (SaaS) providers who have already taken the time to invest and automate common business routines like email, collaboration, ERP, and CRM. For example, we have moved our Exchange environment to Microsoft Office 365. While we still have a messaging support team, the tickets that they receive are very different with more account related or entitlement related queries as opposed to infrastructure related. As a result, we are shifting the focus of our support teams to become products experts and administrators as opposed to technical gurus. The key to all of this is documentation and designing supportability from the start.
Another change that comes with our SaaS-first strategy is the need for new skillsets and processes to manage contracts, usage, documentation, configuration databases, and more. The new landscape requires strong customer service skills, the ability to listen, and liaisons to work closely with business users. The ability to ascertain what the end users are saying becomes of primary importance, as the support for cloud apps and others are UI based. It’s about being able to understand and translate what the end user is saying, requesting, or complaining about, and then working through the various support screens and settings to come to a solution. It is much like what we have with ServiceNow today.
Today we use the CMBD (configuration management data base) within ServiceNow to store application contacts, support process-related issues, or instructions, and those types of things. It is our single source of truth with a CMDB process owner focused on making sure we the right information, reports, and associated contracts are identified. In the cloud environment, we don’t have this as it’s behind a UI (user interface). We are having to fundamentally shift, while still ensuring the services are working, the applications are available, and the processes are happening the way they should. This requires a different focus in our monitoring strategy, but hopefully, not a different tool.
What keeps me up at night
If I had to pick one or two things that keep me up a night when thinking of IT operational support for cloud and SaaS, the first would be the CMDB process owner(s). They need to ensure we are gathering the right information, negotiating the right types of service level agreements and so forth. Traditionally, we made commitments to the business based on set service levels, but when you start negotiating with 10-15 different SaaS providers, they may all have different ideas and criteria. It has the potential to get complicated fast.
We also need a centralized way to make sure that we have the operating level agreements in place, and that we have all of that documented in the right way. Why? Six months down the road, when everyone’s moved onto another focus and a user calls to report “this doesn’t work anymore,” we know who to call and how to fix it quickly. Again, documentation will be key.
In the world of cloud and SaaS, there’s going to be a different person, a different company, a different process for every application. We need people whose job it is to manage it, with a central place to get help, and receive the proper attention to ensure that it gets corrected efficiently and effectively.
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