The Hierarchy of Services

Jeremy Sherwood

blog-201301-bob-dylanBob Dylan said it 40 some years ago: “you gotta serve somebody.” And this is the nature of IT.

No matter what component you examine within any IT infrastructure it is providing a service to some higher-level function. Where the idea gets muddied is in the definition of a “service.”

In IT, our goal is to deliver IT Services to our customer, and certainly this defines what these services are from an external perspective. But these IT Services are comprised of myriad component services in an often complex hierarchy.

Truly effective IT Service Management recognizes this and properly decomposes services in our Service Catalog into atomic services and understands the interrelationships.

When we understand the composition of services and the relationships between and within them, we are able to understand the impact of changes and isolate problems quickly, resulting in a higher level of service to the end customer.

This is called competitive advantage, children. But when you don’t understand the complexities (or it’s “tribal knowledge”) and your services break, you get to write a public letter of apology to your market explaining why you failed to resolve a service outage on one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.

One of the most challenging aspects to adopting an IT Service Management mindset is that for 40+ years we’ve been managing infrastructure. It’s always been about the hardware and the networks. But hardware isn’t always hardware any more.

Layers of virtualization could mean our application is running on a virtual host running on a virtual server that lives on a blade that’s slotted in a chassis…and none of it matters to my IT Service.

It’s not about the hardware. Networks have become a commodity. Internet dial tone is very nearly a reality.

Fifteen years ago I was troubleshooting a 10Base/T network where certain users were hogging the bandwidth. Today, access networks are fast and resilient and it’s not worth the bother.

Network management is so 1991 (unless you’re a network service provider…again with the hierarchy of services). My point is this: monitor the services and use the component hierarchy to quickly pinpoint problems rather than monitor all the hardware and attempt to understand its impact on the service (or you can do both, as long as you monitor the service itself).

If you’re only looking at details on hardware utilization you’re essentially driving a Model T. The world is moving on. Processing power and bandwidth are plentiful and readily available with a couple of mouse clicks from AWS, Rackspace, Teramark, and others.

It’s about the service. If you want the biggest bang for your buck, tear a page from the ITIL playbook: plan your IT Service strategy, identify it’s Key Performance Indicators, understand service interdependencies, and choose an ITSM platform that can get the data, monitor the KPI’s, understand the service hierarchy, and tell you which service component is in trouble before it fails.

If you want to manage devices there are plenty of antique tools for that. I love Steampunk, too, but because it’s stylish and cool, not because it’s modern and effective.

Understanding your hierarchy of IT Services, establishing Key Performance Indicators for each, and then using them to monitor your Services enables more effective IT Service Delivery, happy customers, and competitive advantage.

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