Beyond tickets: Demonstrating the value of IT’s business partnership

IT usually runs lean for a reason

Many IT departments spend a huge percentage of their times reacting to problems and simply keeping the lights on. The reason? Because you (and your IT team) aren’t effectively communicating the value you are bringing and/or could bring to the business.

And because you’re not doing that, the business is running your team as lean as they possibly can. Because, as a business, why should I hire another IT person when I can’t see the value you bring me?

What’s in it for you?

In a nutshell, showing the business the value the IT team are bringing could unlock many benefits, including:

  1. Kudos from management now see you as valuable members of the organisation, and not a cost “sink”
  2. A better relationship with the business; who now consider IT when starting projects.
  3. Enable management to justify additional resources (e.g. people, or money for training)
  4. Salary increase/promotion

How can you demonstrate value?

  1. Become more intimate with the business (often referred to as a Business Partner)
  2. Demonstrate and show the value that the business partnership, and IT, is bringing to the organisation.

I covered step 1 in the linked blog post above. This post will focus on step 2.

Out with the tickets, in with the value

Some IT teams measure performance based on number of IT tickets handled. While it’s a useful barometer and can help show trends, it doesn’t show value, so we need to focus on what does.

Assuming that you’re now meeting regularly with key employees and departments, you should have a good grasp on business needs, wants, and overall priorities.

Finding the value

Value is everywhere, you just have to measure it. You can capture and measure it in terms of:

Money:

  • Up-front costs – Capital expenditure (CapEx)
    • IT equipment
  • Running costs – Operational expenditure (OpEx)
    • Power, cooling, floor space (rent), salaries

Efficiency (Hours saved):

  • Improving the efficiency with which an employee or team acheive a task or workflow (could be IT itself or another department)

Satisfaction:

  • Improvements in IT service satisfaction are important to the business. You should care that you’re offering a good service. Capture it, measure it. Ask for and gather feedback in your IT discussions that you have with your departments.

IT support volumes:

  • Reduction in IT tickets related to the project (for example, implementing solution has reduced tickets about previous solution by n number or y percent.)

Enabling the business/meeting business needs:

  • There’s value in enabling the business.
    • It sounds silly, but keeping an email server running effectively is a business enabler. It may not be practical to show how much money it makes or saves, but it forms a key part of what businesses *must* have in order to operate, and so it is valuable.
    • Does the Business need a Disaster Recovery plan? Have you got one of those? Does it work? If yes, then you’re adding value.

Measuring and reporting value

Hopefully the items above provide some good hints to where you can define the value.

To measure value, you need to define it and then measure the delta between the baseline (how things were), with how they are.

Below, I’ll try to cover some examples which show value.

Example 1: Improving employee workflows (Efficiency)

The entire finance team have to go through a process daily. While it is semi-automated, there’s still room for human error and it’s very tedious. The process often breaks halfway through, and this results in IT needing to be called roughly once a week to assist. After this was raised with IT in a regular meeting, IT analysed the workflow and created a fully automated solution which reduced the time it takes to action the process by 10 minutes each day, and reduced the failure rate to only one support call every six months.

Where’s the value?

  1. Hours saved. Time is money. If your work saves 10 employees in a team 10 minutes each per day, over 200 working days a year, that’s 332 hours you’ve saved the team. This can be measured in money, if you figure out rough costs of an employee’s time (usually gross salary divided by working hours in a year)
  2. The Team is more productive, and can focus on adding further value instead of working on menial tasks (you just enabled the business).
  3. Less support calls. Support calls were reduced from around 50 calls a year, to only 2. That’s a 96% reduction in IT calls!

Example 2: Reduction in required disk storage space

Your data center is close to capacity, and the company is expecting a tight quarter in sales, but the business still needs storage for files and documents. Thanks to your good relationship with multiple departments, you’ve managed to negotiate and reduce the amount of storage required for the next quarter by 50% by deleting unneeded data and archiving old data to offline storage. In doing so, you’ve also managed to reduce the physical footprint of the additional storage such that it will now fit into the existing data center without requiring expansion (because you need to order less of it).

Where’s the value?

  1. Saved on capital costs. Enterprise-grade file storage systems are expensive, and you’ve halved the amount of storage you need to buy.
  2. Saved on operational costs. It costs money to install, power and cool disk storage systems
  3. Enabled the business to post a healthy quarter result. Because you delayed data center expansion by reducing the amount of storage needed (both capacity of physical size) and thus the Data Center didn’t need to be expanded to fit the new storage.

How do you measure your team’s value?

I’ve only covered a few of the many ways that we as IT people can measure value. I’d love to hear how you and your IT teams measure the value you bring to the business! :)

How to increase the usable disk size in the NetApp ONTAP 8.x 7-mode Simulator

Background

If you or your company own a NetApp Storage System, you can access and download the NetApp Simulator – it’s basically a NetApp filer in a Virtual Machine. Very cool; and great for learning and experimenting in a Lab.

Why increase the disk size?

The Simulator, by default, presents you with 28 x 1GB disks, giving you a mere 28GB raw disk space.

While this is fine for learning; I wanted to use it as the main SAN provider in my Virtualization home lab; where I plan to run an entire lab including ESXi hosts, a SAN appliance and networking inside a single small form factor computer.

Why not use Nexenta, or Openfiler, or FreeNAS?

Two reasons:

  1. I’m used to NetApp systems, and want to learn more
  2. I can use NetApp’s Deduplication and Compression features to squeeze much more out of the limited SSD space inside my Gigabyte Brix.

I tried Nexenta, but found it really slow and it also randomly hogged an entire CPU core for seemingly no reason.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

All of the information below is available and possible thanks to this post from Vidad Cosonok, which covers how to create new larger disks in Cluster-Mode. The commands are different for 7-mode; hence this post. All credit however, should rest with Vidad Cosonok :)

I believe that this method below is much easier and simpler than some of the alternatives, one involving adding another 28 disks (not enough) and another which involves tweaking partitions with a FreeBSD boot disk.

Increasing the size of the disks in the NetApp simulator

Following Vidad’s instructions, it’s possible to create a NetApp simulator with up to 400GB of raw disk space. PRetty impressive! In the example below, I only want to use a maximum of 224GB, so I’m choosing to use 4GB disks rather than 9GB disks. Note that going over 224GB can be a pain in VMware ESXi, as you’ll need to increase the size of an IDE disk, which is non-trivial in ESXi.

Setup the Simulator

  1. Download and extract the ONTAP 7-mode NetApp Simulator (I went for 8.2, and this is tested working on 8.2).
  2. Follow the setup guide to install it into your VMware environment.
    • I installed it into ESXi using the VMware Converter to ensure that the VMDKs were thin provisioned as they went into the Brix’s local SSD datastore
  3. Boot the Virtual Machine
  4. Press Ctrl+C when prompted and choose option 4, to wipe the config and initialise the disks.
  5. Once done, complete the first time setup (where you give it a hostname , IP, etc)

Delete the disks and re-create new ones

Once you’ve configured the Simulator, follow these steps. I’d advise doing this from an SSH client, so you can copy/paste easily, rather than using the VMware console.

priv set advanced
useradmin diaguser unlock
useradmin diaguser password
systemshell
(login as diag, with password you just set)

setenv PATH “${PATH}:/usr/sbin”
echo $PATH
cd /sim/dev/,disks
ls
sudo rm v0*
sudo rm v1*
sudo rm ,reservations
cd /sim/dev
vsim_makedisks -h

Make a note of the options available for -t (type), as you may wish to deviate from what I’m doing.

To make ~224GB usable disks:

sudo vsim_makedisks -n 14 -t 31 -a 0
sudo vsim_makedisks -n 14 -t 31 -a 1
sudo vsim_makedisks -n 14 -t 31 -a 2
sudo vsim_makedisks -n 14 -t 31 -a 3

To make ~550GB of usable disks:

sudo vsim_makedisks -n 14 -t 36 -a 0
sudo vsim_makedisks -n 14 -t 36 -a 1
sudo vsim_makedisks -n 14 -t 36 -a 2
sudo vsim_makedisks -n 14 -t 36 -a 3

Check they’re present, then exit and halt.

ls ,disks/
exit
halt

Configuring the new disks for use

  1. Power off the Simulator VM
  2. If you made your total disks larger than 224GB, you need to Edit the VM settings and make Hard Drive 4 550GB (rather than 250GB). If you’re doing this in vCenter/ESXi it can be tricky as the HDD is IDE rather than SCSI.
  3. Power on the Simulator VM
  4. Press Ctrl-C for Boot Menu when prompted
  5. Enter selection 5 ‘Maintenance mode boot’
  6. Assign 3 disks for the Clustered ONTAP dedicated root aggregate, and halt

    disk assign v4.16 v4.17 v4.18
    disk show
    halt

  7. Power-cycle the Simulator
  8. Press Ctrl-C for Boot Menu when prompted
  9. Enter selection 4 ‘Clean configuration and initialize all disks’ and answer ‘y’ to the two prompts
  10. Wait for the wipe/initialise to complete, then re-do the setup if needed.
  11. Log in to the system, and assign the disks, so they’re usable:

    disk assign all

  12. Now you can create a new aggregate/volume/qtree/LUN etc and use the Simulator to its full potential :)
  13. At this stage, you may want to add the Licences, which include iSCSI and NFS. You can’t use iSCSI or NFS without installing the license (and for iSCSI, enabling and starting the service).