Azure : IT Governance in the cloud

Introduction

During the weekend I saw the following tweet passing by …

Apparently, a hosting company (allegedly) got all their data wiped by an ex-admin. Now I can imagine people thinking that this is something that is part of the territory when it boils down to cloud. So I wanted to write a blog post entailing what you do to set up a governance structure in Azure. Here I’m aware that the above tweet is more related to the security aspect of governance, it’s a part of it nevertheless.

 

Governance?!?

Let’s get started on our scope… IT Governance can cover a lot of ground. In essence, the goal is to assure that the investment in IT generates business value and the risks that are associated with IT projects are mitigated. Though I found that CIO.com has a nice definition on it ;

Simply put, it’s putting structure around how organizations align IT strategy with business strategy, ensuring that companies stay on track to achieve their strategies and goals, and implementing good ways to measure IT’s performance. It makes sure that all stakeholders’ interests are taken into account and that processes provide measurable results. An IT governance framework should answer some key questions, such as how the IT department is functioning overall, what key metrics management needs and what return IT is giving back to the business from the investment it’s making.

So let’s take a look at how we can put an enterprise-grade structure around the management of Azure!

 

TL;DR = Azure Enterprise Scaffold

For those who want to skip the post below… When talking about governance in Azure, the best place that summarizes it the following page in our documentation ; “The Azure Enterprise Scaffold“.

Continue reading “Azure : IT Governance in the cloud”

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Lingo Explained : Lombardi Time

Personally, I am someone who is always on time. A disaster must have struck down upon us before I am late to anything. I would rather sit in my car for an hour as I am way too early for a meeting, than to be a minute late. This week I learned that there is a term that follows the same belief!

Vince Lombardi was the head coach of Greenbay Packers. He ran a disciplined regime and introduced something that later became known as “Lombardi Time” ;

Lombardi expected his players and coaches to be 15 minutes early to meetings and practices. Not on time — 15 minutes early. If they weren’t, he considered them “late.” Thus, it came to be called Lombardi time.

A fun fact ; The clock above the entrance of the Greenbay Packers their stadium runs 15 minutes early… 
So next time we have a meeting together, show up on Lombardi time. I’ll be there!

A roadmap to the cloud… Where should I focus on?

Cloud is here to stay!
A lot of questions about “THE Cloud” have risen the last years. In the beginning, the most responses included that it was a hype or that it was a rebranded solution from the past (“ASP“). Though at this point in time, it is safe to say that “Cloud Services” are here to stay and that there is no point back but to embrace them as an IT department. My personal sentiment is that the current market leaders “Amazon” & “Microsoft” will continue to grow and eventually dominate this market. As google has enough cashflow, I suspect that they will join in this battle. So the current conundrum is ; how to move your current landscape from an “on premise” way of working towards the cloud…?

Cloud Maturity Model
For organisations who are stuck with this question, I would like to point out to a fine document (“Cloud Maturity Model“) of the Open Data Center Alliance. It describes the different stages, even from different perspectives, that you will traverse in your journey.

Quote about the cloud maturity model ;

2014-12-02 10_59_04-Cloud_Maturity_Model_Rev_2.0.pdf - Adobe Reader

Progression through the various maturity levels is based on the evolution of a number of parallel capabilities, as described in the following figures.
The result is represented by an inferred resulting maturity, roughly mapped as follows:

  • CMM 1. (Initial / Ad Hoc) The existing environment is analyzed and documented for initial cloud potential. Pockets of virtualized systems exist, for limited
    systems, without automation tooling, operated under the traditional IT and procurement processes. Most of the landscape still runs on physical
    infrastructure. The focus is on the private cloud, although the public cloud is used for niche applications.
  • CMM 2. (Repeatable / Opportunistic) IT and procurement processes and controls are updated specifically to deal with cloud and who may order services and service
    elements and how. Private cloud is fully embraced with physical-to-virtual movement of apps and the emergence of cloud-aware apps.
  • CMM 3. (Defined / Systematic) Tooling is introduced and updated to facilitate the ordering, control, and management of cloud services. Risk and governance controls
    are integrated into this control layer, ensuring adherence to corporate and country requirements. Complementary service management
    interfaces are operational. More sophisticated use of SaaS is evident, and private PaaS emerges.
  • CMM 4. (Measured / Measurable) Online controls exist to manage federated system landscapes, distributed data and data movement, federated and distributed
    application transactions, and the cross-boundary transitions and interactions. Defined partners and integration exist, enabling dynamic
    movement of systems and data, with supporting tool layer integration (for example, service desk, alerting, commercial systems, governances).
    Cloud-aware apps are the norm and PaaS is pervasive. Hybrid apps develop across cloud delivery models.
  • CMM 5. (Optimized) All service and application deployments are automated, with orchestration systems automatically locating data and applications in the
    appropriate cloud location and migrating them according to business requirements, transparently (for example, to take advantage of carbon
    targets, cost opportunities, quality, or functionality).

So far, so good… yeah? I know, this all still sounds a bit “fluffy“. The basics to remember is that there are various stages involved so you can keep track of where you are. Though for me there are three focus points that every organisation should embrace in order to be ready for the future with cloud services.

  • IAAS has become commodity
  • Federation is the new black
  • Interoperability is mandatory

IAAS has become commodity
I do NOT believe in on-premise virtualisation farms anymore… for the majority of organisations. I must concur that there are use cases that would still require this, though for the majority of organization this is not the case. I can see you pondering “But we are special!”, and I must disappoint you, most organisations are not. Internal IT should focus on the things that deliver real value to an organisation. An Infrastructure-as-a-Service layer has become a basic commodity in the market and you should embrace it. The time you spend in maintaining the lowest layers is better invested in real business value. I, yet again, concur that this will imply a shift of skills needed…

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” -Chinese Proverb

Federation is the new black
Let’s start with a quote from the maturity model ;

Federation refers to the ability of identity and access management software to be able to securely share user identities and
profiles. This ability allows users within a specific organization to utilize resources located in multiple clouds without having to generate
separate credentials in each cloud individually. IT is able to manage one set of identities, authorizations, and set of security review processes.
From the user perspective, this enables seamless integration with systems and applications.

For most organisations, start with setting up a federation service… Active Directory Federations Services, or a SAML provider, pick something that best fits your current technology stack. Though be aware that federation is a key, if not THE key, component of a succesful cloud roadmap!

Interoperability is mandatory
And, yet again, let’s start with a quote ;

There are two key concepts of interoperability: (1) The ability to connect two systems that are concurrently running in cloud
environments, and (2) the ability to easily port a system from one cloud to another. Both involve the use of standard mechanisms for service
orchestration and management, enabling elastic operation and flexibility for dynamic business models, while minimizing vendor lock-in.

Your high level architecture should consist of “islands”, which are linked together via APIs and/or abstraction layers and where authentication is done via federation mechanisms.

In addition, keep in mind that you will move systems around. So interoperability towards migrating systems is a key requirement and should always be a focal point in your decision-making. For instance; Think about exit scenarios with a specific cloud provider. How will you handle this?

Conclusion (TL;DR)

  • Cloud is here to stay. In a few years, it will be the defacto standard.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service has become commodity. In a few years, this segment will be dominated by Amazon, Microsoft & Google.
  • Federation is the new black. If you haven’t set up a federation system… DO IT NOW!
  • Interoperability is mandatory. Always keep in mind that systems should be portable islands which are built for data interaction.

Best practices regarding the creation of an “RFP” (aka “Request for Proposal”)

The Overall Process
RFP-Process-kvaes.0.2

  • Study ; The first step… Consider what you want to achieve and what’s life currently like. This might seem as a no-brainer, though you might be surprised how few organisations actually do this.
  • RFI ; So you have a great idea? Fantastic! Now compare this with what is currently seen as industry standards and what are common solutions positioned by vendors. My advice here is not to differ too much from the ongoing standards, unless this is really ground breaking or market differentiating for you. Though, in most cases, you are just looking to keep your business running. In the latter case, keep as close to the standard as possible.
  • RFP/RFQ ; So we know what we want, and what is possible at this point in time by the market. Let’s select our vendors from who we wish a clear-cut proposal. We’ll go more in detail about this phase later on… So don’t worry. 🙂
  • Project ; Once the selection is done and contract negotiations are (near) closed, the project can start. This usually starts with a due diligence by the vendor to check if the assumptions / constraints are still valid.
  • Operations ; A lot of people think that operations stops during this project. The reality is far from it, and that’s actually common sense! We do projects to enhance our operational baseline, but the latter is a moving target. We cannot freeze our business for half a year! So be aware of this…

Study
The first step before any project should be a “study”. Do a requirements analysis, update your views on the operational baseline and define the target flag of what you want to reach. Now you can do a fit-gap analysis and see what needs to be done. If the entire matter is way to big… Slice it into smaller / manageable chunks. In the past, we often saw “big bang”-projects which have shifted towards “Roadmaps”. In a Roadmap, the road towards the end goal is mapped via smaller / more realistic paths (projects). The conjunction of all these projects ensure that you reach your path. Though where it might be possible to enter all these projects into one RFP, in most cases it might be more interesting to spread them as your operational baseline is (with due reason!) a moving target.

RFI
Your job is mostly focussed to serving your internal business processes. It is not wrong to say that you are not an expert in the sector you want to purchase from. This is not something to be ashamed of! Though, be aware that your vendor IS an expert in the matter. During the “RFI” (Request for Information”) you are going to study the relative sector from which you are looking to acquire services/products. Research into the products and do not be shy to invite vendors over to discuss their products. Learn to know their (dis)advantages and how they can serve your business. In the end… always translate certain “features” / “technologies” into basic requirements. For instance ; IT Storage projects revolve around “capacity”, “performance”, “availability” & “integration”. Thin provisioning, snapshotting, deduplication, … all revolve around “capacity”. So do not be fooled by the nice “bling bling” that vendors portray and search for the essence of what you want to achieve. During this round, you will also define your list of requirements and selection criteria! So be sure to look for the elements that should compose these requirements/criteria.

RFP/RFQ

Phases
RFP-Process-kvaes.1.1

  • Start-up ; Invite the vendors to take part and ask them to confirm. After receiving confirmations, send the RFP to all vendors at the same time.
  • Round One ; During the first round, you will allow the vendors some time (typically one to two weeks) to process the RFP. At the end of that period, they will need to have sent all their answers to you. You will process these and provide all vendors with a list of all questions & answers. After which, you will allow them again a given period to adjust their proposal to fit these answers. After the deadline, you will do a “downselect” of the vendors to reach the number of vendors you want in round two.
  • Round Two ; When going through the answers of round one, you will notice that there are fundamental differences between vendors. Now you will adjust your requirements to align all the vendors towards one target. In addition, you will invite the vendors to explain their proposals into more detail. This will give you a more profound insight into the reality of things. At the end of this round, you will once again to a downselect to reach the last contestants (typically two or three).
  • Last Round ; At the beginning of the last round, be sure to provide the remaining vendors with a clear-cut baseline that everyone should meet. Now you do not want any structural differences between the parties anymore where the main focus will be around meeting the target and pricing. Clearly indicate that this should be their “Best And Final Offer” (“BAFO”), which will be presented at CxO level. At the end, choose the party which ranks the highest in relation to your selection criteria.
  • Contract negotiations ; After the selection, contract negotiations will start. In some cases, an “LOI” (“Letter of Intent”) will be signed to create a non-linear relation between the contract negotiations and the project start.
  • Project Start ; The project will start with a due diligence; Here an investigation will be done by the vendor to check if all the assumptions made (and agreed upon) are valid. After which the project will kick-off!

Be aware that these kind of processes can take up to half a year! So be sure to initiate them with ample time left before your deadline. Also be aware that these things will have a delay and in most cases this is caused by yourself! You still have your regular job to do… and you will get questions that you did not consider and need time to analyze.

RFP/RFQ Document Contents
So how should a typical RFP/RFQ document look?

  • Management Summary ; Create a one-pager for executives from the vendors to read through.
  • Context ; Why do you launch this RFP/RFQ? Provide an insight into your way of working/environment. How does this project interact with it?
  • Timing ; Setup a clear timing table. Each phase should have a clear deadline… An RFP/RFQ is a project so be sure to manage it like a project. This is also important for the vendors to allocate resources towards the process of answering the proposal. It is in your best interest to ensure that they can prepare themself properly.
  • Selection Criteria ; Always use (and communicate!) selection criteria. You, and the vendors, should know how you will quote their proposals and make the final selection. Be ware that these will become the core driver for the proposals! If you hand out more than 50% on price, then you will get skimmed down offers.
  • Requirements & Product/Service/Project Definition ; Apart from the selection criteria, also be aware that the vendor will provide you the most slim answer to meet your requirements. So if you didn’t define it, you will not receive it! Do not assume anything… This might again look like a no-brainer, though… 😦
  • Constraints ; Actually, these can also be considered requirements… Yet be sure to state that a vendor should take certain constraints into account. Do you require a certain transition / honeymoon period? Do their employees need to have NATO-clearance, …
  • Pricing Table ; You do not want all vendors to provide their own pricing table… You will not be able to compare apples with oranges. So provide your own pricing table and adjust it according to the feedback from each round. In fact, your RFI phase should have already provided you with ample information to create a pretty stable pricing sheet.

Lingo Explained : Child / Beginner’s Mind

In Zen Buddhism they have a concept called “Shoshin (初心)” meaning “a beginner’s mind”. Sometimes it is also referred to as “a Child’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject.

beginners_mind_experts-mind

Due to our experience, we often already have certain prejudgements about the scenarios we are in. These limit our vision, narrowing our view on the matter at hand. Going one step back, starting from a blank slate & posing question is the way to think as a “beginner”. The view of a beginner will make us look at a situation from another viewpoint, thus providing us with additional information to which we may have been blinded.

Lingo Explained : Plain Vanilla

“Plain vanilla is an adjective describing the simplest version of something, without any optional extras, by analogy with vanilla ice cream, the default flavour. Some Financial instruments like put options or call options are often described as plain vanilla options. The opposite of plain vanilla options are exotic options.”

plainVanilla