ONUG IT Infrastructure Simplification Initiative

ONUG IT Infrastructure Simplification Initiative

Enabling Trusted Infrastructure for Business Value Creation

Nick Lippis recently blogged about The IT Industry’s New Era of Simplification. Here I reflect on how the industry reached this inflection point and introduce a new ONUG Collaborative initiative focused on helping enterprise IT professionals overcome the numerous operational challenges that arise in today’s highly complex IT environments.

High Cost of Complexity in the Cloud Era

Amazon’s launch of AWS in 2006 initiated a wave of unprecedented technological innovation and disruption that has transformed enterprise IT. At the same time, hyperscalers such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo (remember them?) started releasing internally developed software as open source projects, helping to spur the adoption of cloud-native enterprise application development. This set enterprise IT on a path to deploying applications using a new generation of IT infrastructure featuring innovative software stacks, cloud-based services, cloud-native private data center architectures and virtual networking technologies spanning both local and wide area networks.

Fast forward almost two decades later and application developers in the Cloud Era routinely exploit the power of software tools and technologies that were unimaginable in the 20th century. Yet this progress comes at a steep cost for enterprise IT managers, who are left to grapple with a level of complexity that is oustripping the ability of networking and security operations teams to connect and secure the supporting application infrastructure.

Network operations now encompasses legacy three-tier data centers, private clouds, public cloud connectivity, legacy MPLS WANs and SD-WANs utilizing Internet transport. Multi-cloud networking presents a daunting level of complexity for NetOps teams. Security operations teams also face immense challenges as the attack surface has become vast and perimeter security is a quaint artifact of a bygone era. Zero trust is the new mantra but adoption is an inherently complex undertaking.

Given this state of affairs, it’s no surprise that enterprise IT managers are under extreme duress. Burnout is an epidemic in the making, yet at the same time, companies are cutting back on IT staffing and laying off workers, forcing enterprise IT organizations to do more with less.

Meanwhile, competition for talent is fierce and companies can’t hire workers with the right skills for budgeted positions. The industry talent pool is not growing fast enough to keep up with the unrelenting pace of technological innovation.

ONUG Collaborative Simplification Initiative

Since its inception a decade ago, ONUG has served as the collective voice of enterprise IT professionals by providing an unbiased, supplier-agnostic forum for identifying problems and proposing solutions that has enabled IT infrastructure teams to overcome many of the critical networking and security challenges that have arisen during the Cloud Era.

ONUG’s vehicle for driving industry change is the ONUG Collaborative, in which teams of enterprise IT professionals and suppliers interact to generate outcomes ranging from strategic thought leadership initiatives to practical market enablement deliverables to technology innovation projects. The focus is on actionable deliverables that enterprise IT professionals can take back to their organizations and apply to effect positive change.

Starting in 2024, the ONUG Collaborative’s overarching goal will be simplification – enabling enterprise IT networking and security teams to overcome the burden of managing NetSecOps in the face of overwhelming complexity. Suppliers in the ONUG Community will be challenged to deliver products and solutions that measurably simplify the process of connecting and securing applications deployed on modern IT infrastructure. Collaborative project teams will be tasked with generating actionable outcomes and deliverables that help cut through the complexity of supporting application development teams, positioning enterprise IT organizations as true enablers of business value creation in the 21st century digital enterprise.

Simplification Yields Trusted Infrastructure

Inability to master the complexity of networking and security operations leads to suboptimal compromises that inhibit management’s ability to realize strategic business objectives. 

Operationally, IT infrastructure sits atop three pillars: Connect – Secure – Automate. Simplifying these functions results in trusted infrastructure that modern digital enterprises can depend on to reliably deploy a whole host of applications, unlocking business value that propels revenue growth and increased profitability.

Therefore, IT decision makers need a strategic plan for simplifying operations with the objective of providing trusted IT infrastructure that DevOps teams can depend on without concerns related to risks and negative impacts. The network just works, securely and reliably.

The ultimate goal of simplification is fully-autonomous, lights-out operation. While reaching that state will take years, enterprise IT decision makers should adopt that mindset as they apply the power of AI and automation to different areas within IT infrastructure operations.

Simplification is Multi-Faceted

NetSecOps complexity is multi-faceted, spanning multiple operational domains, each comprising multiple layers of physical and virtual infrastructure in three-tier data centers, private clouds, public clouds and the underlying networks. This is further complicated by operational silos that are artifacts of organizational boundaries, vendor-proprietary infrastructure and the distributed nature of hybrid multi-cloud infrastructure. Therefore, simplification is a multi-faceted initiative requiring innovation, investment and industry collaboration along a number of fronts.

Key elements of IT infrastructure simplification include:

Observability. Operations teams require full stack observability in each domain and end-to-end observability across multiple domains. While cloud-native infrastructure is heavily instrumented, a concerted effort is needed to standardize and normalize telemetry data so that it can be easily processed by analytics and AI/ML tools. The Tower of Babel of telemetry emitters is the root cause of observability complexity.

AI/ML. Despite all of the AI hype, NOC and SOC teams still rely primarily on human intelligence for operational decision making. Simplification requires first augmenting and then replacing human intelligence with machine intelligence, exploiting the vast potential power of AI and machine learning to monitor operations and detect, diagnose and repair problems automatically, without operator intervention.

Programmability. Automation requires network and security operations to become entirely software driven, with workflow procedures and policy decisions embedded in software tools. Programmability enables new capabilities, such as infrastructure as code and policy as code. 

Open Interfaces & APIs. Integrating programmable infrastructure is problematic without support for open interfaces and APIs. Coding to multiple vendor-proprietary interfaces and APIs leads to increased complexity, vendor lock-in and technical debt that results in lengthy development cycles and inhibits the ease of making future changes.

Unified Operational Models. Programmability enables software-driven automation but NOC and SOC teams also need unified operational models for typical scenarios and workflows, spanning both multiple domains and multiple layers within each domain. This is a tall order but these models will ultimately lead to the adoption of common design patterns that suppliers will support with products and services. Unified operational models lead to common design patterns which lead to supplier tools and technologies that enable simplification.

Network-as-a-Service (NaaS). Network complexity and talent shortages are already driving a shift in enterprise IT buying habits, but the rise of NaaS positions service providers to play an important role in simplifying network operations. NaaS offerings come in different forms but the underlying theme is bringing the simple, service-based consumption model that cloud application developers have embraced into the realm of enterprise networking. It’s still early days, but the adoption of NaaS is a game changer.

IT Organizational Alignment. Enterprise IT organizational structures are the byproduct of decades of experience deploying IT applications on complex IT infrastructure. Operational silos exacerbate complexity, so simplifying IT operations requires realigning the IT organization to break down silos and unify NOC/SOC workflows and decision making processes.

New Skill Sets and Mindsets. While new technologies are critical for IT infrastructure simplification, human factors are just as important. Network and security operations personnel must develop new skills and embrace a new mindset. Software skills are must-have, not nice-to-have. With IT talent in such short supply, AI and automation are not serious threats to job security. The first steps on the path to autonomous operations involve applying machine intelligence to augment human intelligence, reducing job stress and allowing talented engineers to concentrate on proactive initiatives rather than be consumed fighting fires

Closing the Complexity Gap

Technology innovation and disruption in the Cloud Era has resulted in an alarming gap between the aspirations and capabilities of IT application developers and the severe constraints imposed by the complexity of operating the underlying infrastructure. The result is a significant drag on business value creation, and worse, the assumption of unacceptable risks that arise from relying on untrusted infrastructure.

The call to action is clear. The status quo needs to change – starting now. I’m looking forward to working with the members of the ONUG Collaborative to help effect this change.


Stephen Collins


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Stephen Collins