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DevOps Journal: Article

Finding Harmony Between Business & Applications & Infrastructure Teams

In summary, no one plans to fail, they just fail to plan

In many companies, the business leadership team, the application team and the infrastructure team are all different entities. And while they are all very dependent on each other in many ways, often organizational goals and alignment can be very different for each team.

For example, business leaders want maximum business results with minimum cost or investment. As a result, this often applies pressure on IT to squeeze more and more out while continually trying to reduce costs. Application teams generally care primarily about the applications, which are directly linked to the business results, but are also very dependent on the infrastructure team. The infrastructure is often at the bottom of the heap, critical for application success, but primarily viewed by business leaders as a "cost center" where the business value provided can be hard to directly link to individual expenses (until something breaks, that is).

However, while there are some natural drivers for conflict between the teams, there should be an even stronger motivation for joint success. That said, the ability to get past the friction points to really find harmony between these groups often takes a concerted effort to design an approach that works for everyone and results in the maximum business results for the right level of investment.

By starting out with that goal in mind, there are three "easy" steps that can help make sure that these groups work together for mutual success:

Step 1: Plan Together
While this seems obvious, it often doesn't happen as different management chains and budgets can result in disjointed goals and plans. Working across teams in the budget and planning phases can be critical to making sure there are common goals and metrics and that those goals align with available resources.

The ability to agree on tradeoffs up front can optimize existing resources across teams and ensure everyone buys in. Obviously the service level agreement (SLA) is the most common form of agreement across teams and can represent a great approach for reaching a common goal, especially if it is done holistically as part of an overall discussion for aligning staffing and resources with business objectives.

Step 2: Share a Common View of Reality
The most common use case is that applications and infrastructure teams have either no management solution or siloed management tools that don't span across domains. As a result, each team has a different view of what is happening that often aren't aligned with each other and don't provide a common view of the IT environment. When a problem arises that affects business results, this lack of shared visibility often translates into more effort to prove that it is not a problem in each teams' domain more so than an effort to jointly find and fix the problem. By having a management tool that integrates across domains, both the application and the infrastructure teams can have a common view of reality. Products, such as SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor and Virtualization Manager, can provide visibility across domains to better coordinate changes and plan for capacity requirements that help prevent problems while significantly improving mean time to repair when a problem does occur.

Step 3: Plan for When Things Go Wrong
Given how much impact critical application failures and downtime can have on a business' financial success, you would think that incident planning would be more common. And while many IT teams do have backup and failover plans, few actually test them. But that only addresses the contingency for a problem on the IT side. Often, the business leadership team could have alternate plans for when significant problems occur. Application, infrastructure and business leadership teams should work together to plan for incidences where backup approaches for communicating with key customers (e.g. a phone tree to call if a website or application is down), temporary alternative order processing approaches and partners who can take over while a system is being repaired are jointly defined. While perhaps not ideal, having these alternatives preplanned and available can turn an outage from a disaster into a mere inconvenience.

In summary, no one plans to fail, they just fail to plan. That old adage clearly applies to the concept of business leadership, application and infrastructure teams working together. A few relatively easy steps taken can help make sure these teams work together to prevent problems and at the same time ensure they are ready to minimize the impacts if a problem does occur.

More Stories By Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson is Director of Systems Management Business at SolarWinds.

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