How IT Operations is Like Auto Racing
By John Dixon, Consulting Architect, LogicsOne
If you’ve ever tried your hand at auto racing like I did recently at Road Atlanta, you’ll know that putting up a great lap time is all about technique. If you’ve ever been to a racing school, you’ll also remember that being proactive and planning your corners is absolutely critical in driving safely. Lets compare IT operations to auto racing now. Everyone knows how to, essentially, drive a car. Just as every company, essentially, knows how to run IT. What separates a good driver from a great driver? Technique, preparation, and knowing the capabilities of your driver and equipment.
The driver = your capabilities
The car = your technology
The track = your operations as the business changes
Lets spend a little bit of time on “preparation.” As we all know, preparation time is often a luxury. From what I have seen consulting over the past few years, preparation is not just installed in the culture of IT. But we’d all agree that more preparation leads to better outcomes (for almost everything, really). So, how do we get more preparation time? This is where the outsourcing trend gained momentum – outsource the small stuff to get more time back to work on strategic projects. Well, this didn’t always work out very well, as typical outsourcing arrangements moved large chunks of IT to an outside provider. Why didn’t we move smaller chunks first? That’s what we do in auto racing – the reconnaissance lap! Now we have the technology and arrangements to do a reconnaissance lap of sorts. For example, our Cloud Management as a Service (CMaaS) has this philosophy built-in – we can manage certain parts of infrastructure that you select, and leave others alone. Maybe you’d like to have your Exchange environment fully managed but not your SAP environment. We’ve built CMaaS with the flexible technology and arrangements to do just that.
|Auto Racing||IT Operations|
|Safety first! Check your equipment before heading out, let the car warm up before increasing speed||Make sure your IT shop can perform as a partner with the business|
|Know where to go slow! You can’t take every turn with full throttle. Even if you can, its worth it to “throw away” some corners in preparation for straight sections||Know where to allocate investment in IT – its all about producing results for the business|
|First lap: reconnaissance (stay on the track)||Avoid trying to tackle very complex problems with brand new technology (e.g., did you virtualize Exchange on your very first P2V?)|
|Last lap: cool down (stay on the track)||An easy one, manage the lifecycle of your applications and middleware to avoid be caught by a surprise required upgrade|
|Know where to go fast! You can be at full throttle without any brake or steering inputs (as in straight sections), so dig in!||Recognize established techniques and technologies and use them to the max advantage|
|Smooth = fast. Never stab the throttle or the brakes! Sliding all over the track with abrupt steering and throttle inputs is not the fastest way (but it IS fun and looks cool)||Build capabilities gradually and incrementally instead of looking to install a single technology to solve all problems today.|
|Know the capabilities of your car – brakes, tires, clutch, handling. Exceed the capabilities of your equipment and see what happens.||Take the time to know your people, processes, and technology – which things work well and which could be improved? This depends greatly on your business, but there are some best practices to run a modern IT shop.|
|Improve time with each lap||This is all about continuous improvement – many maneuvers in IT should be repeatable (like handling a trouble ticket), so do it better every time.|
|Take a deep breath, check your gauges, check your harnesses, check your helmet||Monitoring is important, but it is not an endgame for most of us. Be aware of things that could go wrong, how you could mitigate risk, which workarounds you could implement, etc.|
|Carry momentum around the track. A high horsepower car with a novice driver will always lose to a great driver in a sedan||Technology doesn’t solve everything. You need proper technique and preparation.|
|Learn from your mistakes – they aren’t the end of the world||With well-instrumented monitoring, performance blips or mistakes are opportunities to improve|
A word on capabilities. Capabilities are not something you simply install with software or infrastructure. Just as an aspiring racecar driver can’t simply obtain the capability required to win a professional F1 race with a weekend class. You need assets (e.g., infrastructure, applications, data) and resources (e.g., dollars) to build capabilities. What exactly is a capability? In racing, it’s the ability to get around a track, any track, quickly and safely. In IT, this would be the ability to handle a helpdesk call and resolve the issue to completion, for a basic example. An advanced IT capability in a retail setting might be to produce a report on how frequently shoppers from a particular zip code purchase a certain product. Or, perhaps, it’s an IT governance capability to understand the costs of providing a particular IT service. One thing I’ve seen in consulting with various shops is that organizations could do a better job of understanding their capabilities.
Now picture yourself in the in the driver’s seat (of your IT shop). Know your capabilities, but really think about your technique and continuously improving your “lap times.”
- Where are your straight sections – where you can just “floor it” and hang on? These might be well-established processes, projects, or tasks that pay obvious benefits. Can you take some time to create more straight sections?
- How much time do you have for preparation? How much time do you spend “studying the track” and “knowing your equipment?” Do you know your capabilities? Can you create time that you can use for preparation?
- Where are your slow sections? The processes that require careful attention to detail. This is probably budget planning time for many of us. Hiring time is probably another slow section.
- Do you understand your capabilities? Defining the IT services that you provide your customer is a great place to start. If you haven’t done this yet, you should — especially if you’re looking at cloud computing. GreenPages and our partners have some well-established techniques to help you do this successfully.
As always, feel free to reach out if you’d like to have a conversation just to toss around some ideas on this topic.
Now for the fun part, a video that a classmate of mine recorded of a hot lap around Road Atlanta. The video begins in turn 11 (under the bridge in this video).
- Turn 11 is important because it is a setup to the front straight section. BUT, it is pretty dangerous too as it leads downhill to turn 12 (the entrance to the straight). Position the car under the RED box on the bridge and give a small amount of right steering input. Build speed down the hill.
- Clip the apex of turn 11 and pull the car into turn 12. Be gentle with turn 12 – upset the car over the gators and you could easily lose control.
- Under the second bridge and onto the front straight section. Grab 5th gear if you can. Up to ~110mph. Position the car out to the extreme left side of the track for turn 1.
- Show no mercy to the brakes for turn 1! Engage ABS, downshift, then trail brake into the right hander, pull the car in to the apex of the turn in 4th gear, carrying 70-80mph.
- Uphill for turn 2. Aim the nose of the car at the telephone pole in the distance, as turn 2 is blind. Easy on the throttle!
- Collect the apex at turn 2 and downhill for turn 3. Use a dab of brakes to adjust speed as you turn slight right for turn 3.
- Turn slight left for turn 4, hug the inside
- Track out and downhill for “the esses” – roll on the throttle easily, you’ve got to keep momentum for the uphill section at turn 5.
- The esses are a fast part of the track but be careful not to upset the car
- Brake slightly uphill for turn 5. It is the entrance to a short straight section where you can gain some speed
- Stay in 4th gear for turn 6 and bring the car to the inside of the turn
- Track way out to the left for the crucial turn 7 – a slow part of the track. Brake hard and downshift to third gear. Get this one right as it is the entrance to the back straight section.
- Build speed on the straight – now is the time to floor it!
- Grab 5th gear midway down the straight for 110+ mph. Take a deep breath! Check your gauges and harnesses.
- No mercy for the brakes at turn 10a! Downshift to 4th gear, downshift to 3rd gear and trail brake as you turn left
- Slight right turn for turn 10b and head back uphill to the bridge – position the car under the RED box and take another lap!