Drink up. If you intend to stay awake to the end of this post, you’re going to need it. This will sound techie, but trust me, I’ll mix in just enough stupidity to keep it real.
So, last week was a watershed moment for me on the tech front. I didn’t really even know what a “watershed moment” was until I Google’d it, so for coming up on my 52nd revolution around the Sun, that’s tragic by itself. The term sounds so cool that I’ve used it for over a decade, but I suppose it was time for me to actually learn the meaning.
The big change for me, was immersing myself inside of two Microsoft System Center products: Operations Manager and Orchestrator.
I’ve known of these products for many, many years, but never had the opportunity to put either of them to use. As a consultant, your options can be both wide and narrow, depending upon the circumstances. In my case, 75% narrow, 25% less-narrow, at first. Later it went to 10% narrow, and then back to 90% narrow. Then 100% laid off, but that’s for another article.
At that time, I was chair-filling a staff-aug role for a municipal IT shop. I was given direction in support of the project du jour, rather than being tapped to recommend strategic changes.
Side Note: How often do you hear anyone in a high-level project planning meeting stand up and ask the entire room “who here has worked with this stuff in the past?” I’ve never heard it in thirty years of IT work.
There was one project in particular, where I was not only allowed, but encouraged, to explore some unique ways to tap my software engineering past towards automating some challenges in the infrastructure present. Well, it was “present” at the time. That was during the 10% narrow period. So, that project led me off into web/database land, building some glue and duct tape to bind Active Directory, with SQL Server, with Solarwinds (yuck!), and ultimately: System Center ConfigMgr 2007. Later, 2012 R2.
(long inhale, sorry…)
The main push of that project was to reduce “process drag” throughout the planning and execution of a medium-sized computer refresh project. That was about getting from Windows XP to 7, and updating Office, IE, and about 4oo LOB apps along the way. Keep in mind that a medium-large scale municipal government is like a company of companies. Each having such a divergent set of needs, constraints and conditions, that calling them “departments” doesn’t do it justice.
Police, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation, and Public Works have about 2 things in common: Windows and Office. Beyond that, they use different hardware, networking, applications, and security configurations. A quagmire of quagmires, if not managed properly. We were lucky, at first.
(warning: digression ensues) In the early days of the 5-year effort, we had a fairly cohesive team, with an impressive amount of operational experience. Towards the end, the entire plane was hijacked by a delusional ass-licking douche-drinker with less “vision” than Helen Keller has right now. Anyhow, the wheels came off the cart.
(relax: back on the highway again) One of the vestiges of the first half of that journey was a web application which provided a means for collecting, organizing, modeling, estimating and planning large-scale replacements, and then tying directly into Configuration Manager to make it happen. For some, it simply relied on USMT and associations, but for outright swaps, where individuals HAD to retain their same apps and settings, we built our own toolset and it worked very well.
We built all sorts of crazy scripts and task sequences, forms, SQL tables, queries and views, stored procs and triggers, event handlers, schedulers, monitors, logging systems, web reporting, even reporting reporting. Shit, even reporting on the reporting reporting.
Last week, I spent four days on SCOM and Orchestrator. On the fifth day, I stood up, smacked myself on the forehead, scared the shit out of my cat and dog, and shouted “holy shitcakes!!! We could’ve done most of that with a few web forms and Orchestrator!” After an hour, the cat and dog carefully returned.
So now what?
I’ve had this on-again, off-again, conversation with some of my friends and colleagues over the past ten years, regarding the “future of software development”. Lately, it’s morphed into “future of IT”, but I morph a lot when I’m low on coffee.
Standing back to see the entire field, blowing in the breeze, you sometimes see patterns missed while focusing on a patch of flowers. The bigger view, to me, looks like this…
- Barring a disruption in the current trend, most businesses will eventually move their core IT operations to the cloud. Not because it’s cheaper, but because it’s GOING to be more efficient in all sorts of ways. If you don’t agree, you haven’t worked in the cloud enough yet.
- Data centers are already shrinking. In some places, they are shrinking dramatically and extremely fast.
- If you write code of almost any kind, in any language, chances are roughly 99/100 that you can find an example already posted on the web.
- The days of having to write end-to-end custom code in mainstream IT are dwindling. When I started writing programs in 1993, you had a broad range of products, but you still had to build a ton of custom things to make it ultimately work. Today, most of that is point-and-click.
- Since 2006, the shift towards an abundance of ready-made solutions, tutorials, examples, open source components, libraries, and freeware has quadrupled or more.
Dumping all this negativity into a big pot of curmudgeon soup boils down to a future that might just deliver on what our professors joked about in the 1990’s: Our job as IT folks is to automate ourselves out of work.
Cases in Point
- Web development was a crazy field to be in back in 2000-2008. Then came Plone, Drupal, and WordPress and SharePoint and now hosted sites will do all the work for you, for a low price. Look at GoDaddy, SquareSpace and Wix. There’s still room for outstanding web-dev talent, for now. At one time, you had to hire someone to write your papers, now you have Microsoft Word and Google Docs.
- Exchange admins are drying up faster than paint.
- Active Directory admins are now just a side role for most any “SysAdmin”
- Most Systems Engineers are doing Architect and Admin work, saving their employers a ton of money. And the company phone and salary rate means 24/7 availability. Great for keeping those pesky servers up in the middle of the night. Bad for little Timmy’s birthday party (“Sorry honey, I have to reboot that server”)
- Even before the cloud landed, most data centers were shrinking just from virtualization, blades and cheaper, more powerful hardware.
- Storage went from being at the front of the plane, to a commodity.
- SDN is turning networking into what Virtual Storage, Virtual Machines, Virtual Applications have been: another portable resource.
People are expensive. They require training, breaks, sick days, personality issues, family time, long lunch breaks, inconsistent behavior, and of course money. Money for salary, benefits, insurance, heating and cooling, phones, rest rooms, break rooms, parking, and of course: square footage lease rates.
Can you blame cost-concious CxO’s for looking for ways to cut costs, improve consistency, reliability and wider profit margins? If you’re on the side of the engineer, it’s like warm, flat beer. If you’re a Wharton or Harvard grad in the boardroom, it’s like a fresh martini.
All this negativity, blah blah. Sure. I could be totally wrong. But ask yourself if you really believe the IT world is going to need (let alone, want) as many people on the payroll in 10 years as they do today?
Lots of things could derail this. Some unimaginable event could shake the general trust in cloud services. Who knows? Maybe some nostalgic wave will wash over the land, like the one drawing teenagers back to buying vinyl recordings and turntables. Maybe employers will drop their golf clubs, turn to each other, and say “You know? Dog gone it. I miss those nerdy little shitheads out in the cubes. Arguing all day about Star Wars, and which programming language was superior. Those costly delays were worth it all. I’m feeling nostalgic. Let’s kick a dead printer and listen to an 80’s rap soundtrack!”
I could be wrong. But it feels like we’re working in the operator pool at AT&T in the 1960’s. It went from this….
and a lot of data centers went from this…