The Inevitability of IT Solutions as Code

By Michael Vizard
app economy, cloud, microservices

With the rise of cloud computing and APIs, the idea that infrastructure could actually be programmed has taken hold. As a result, the management of IT infrastructure will never be the same. However, now that the proverbial API genie is out of the bottle, entire solutions based on technologies that share access to a common set of APIs are now set to become programmable.

As IT becomes more programmable, it will become simpler to manage IT infrastructure as well as the applications running on those stacks of infrastructure. Regardless of whether it comes from VMware, Microsoft or is based on the open-source OpenStack cloud management framework, the march toward software-defined data centers (SDDCs) based on APIs is now well underway.

On top of those SDDCs, there will be a bevy of containers and next-generation lighter-weight virtual machines that will be the foundations of "microservices" architecture that will make it possible to compose IT solutions using a number of orchestration tools. The implications in terms of how solution providers craft those IT solutions will be profound.

On one hand, it will become much simpler to swap out any given product or technology within a particular solution that has been dynamically composed using microservices. At the same time, the entire solution becomes a programmable entity that makes it simpler for organizations to consume by addressing a set of well-defined APIs.

In fact, solution providers such as Dimension Data, a unit of EMC, are already moving in this direction. Following the extension of an alliance with EMC, Dimension Data, a unit of NTT, earlier this month made it clear that is sees whole new classes of applications based on microservices starting to emerge. Kevin Leahy, general manager for the data center business unit at Dimension Data, said that as these new architectures start to emerge, CIOs are showing less interest in managing the underlying IT infrastructure.

"Most organizations want to spend less time on IT infrastructure," Leahy said. "Most CIOs today want to focus more of their efforts on northbound APIs."

It doesn't stop there. There will naturally be APIs within APIs.

Peter Weckesser, CEO of the Siemens Customer Services Business Unit for Digital Factory and Process Industries and Drives Divisions, for example, said the conglomerate is defining a set of APIs for Internet of things (IoT) applications that will incorporate some of the APIs that SAP has defined around its HANA in-memory computing platform.

At the core of these efforts are likely to be multiple types of integration platforms that make it possible to compose the IT service.

In fact, just about all of IT in the future will consist of services that can be dynamically composed together at will, said Ross Mason, founder and vice president of product strategy for MuleSoft. "It will be a lot easier for integrators to develop domain knowledge in a specific area that can be easily inserted into any enterprise," Mason said. "We're already seeing CIOs focusing more on opening up internal APIs."

Underscoring that point, a recent survey of CIOs conducted by MuleSoft finds that more than 50 percent of IT decision-makers said they are generating revenue through an API or soon will be. A full 66 percent of IT decision-makers also said that microservices will be "important" or "very important" to their business strategy in the next 12 months.

Oracle also envisions microservices changing the IT world as solution providers currently know it.

"Microservices expose IT at a more granular level," said Amit Zavery, senior vice president for the Oracle Cloud Platform. "Our goal is to combine the management of data and those microservices."

Kevin Eggleston, senior vice president of social innovation at Hitachi Data Systems, said it's only a matter of time before microservices and APIs drive the cost of switching out any given product or service within a larger IT solution to zero. For that reason, HDS is focusing more on crafting larger-scale repeatable IoT solutions for specific vertical industries in concert with its consulting arm.

Cisco also foresees a day when its unified communications services will be more routinely invoked via APIs by other applications. Jonathan Rosenberg, CTO for collaboration at Cisco, said the company is working toward making it simpler to invoke unified communications delivered via the cloud from within almost any application in a way that enables Cisco to use APIs to upgrade that service without causing any disruptions in terms of how that service is used.

"The cloud hides a lot of complexity," Rosenberg said. "You can now adopt more of a continuous delivery model."

Put it all together, and it quickly becomes apparent that almost every aspect of deploying and managing IT in the enterprise is undergoing a transformation. The challenge facing solution providers today is figuring out how to make sure they stay relevant in what is rapidly shaping up to be a brave new world of IT that will manifest itself much sooner than they think.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for more than 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.

This article was originally published on 2015-09-30