The discipline of IT operations has been around for a long time, and so have tools that help IT engineers do their jobs.
However, IT operations tools have evolved significantly in recent years, along with the broader IT ecosystem. Trends such as the pervasive adoption of the cloud, the pivot to distributed, microservices-based architectures, and unprecedented demand for velocity within IT processes mean that the ITOps tools that worked well five or 10 years ago no longer suffice today.
With that reality in mind, let's take a look at which types of tools modern IT operations engineers should include in their arsenal.
In the past, IT operations teams could get by with tools that merely allowed them to monitor systems by collecting data from their individual components.
But to manage complex, distributed environments, today's IT teams need to think beyond monitoring. They need observability. Observability tools not only collect data, but also correlate disparate data sets and help engineers analyze them.
The result is an enhanced ability to identify root-cause issues and trends that may not be obvious via monitoring alone.
Another way to think beyond conventional monitoring strategies is to embrace AIOps, a category of tool that leverages artificial intelligence to identify and solve problems within IT environments.
Reasonable people can debate the extent to which AIOps is merely a marketing buzzword with an overly ambiguous meaning. Nonetheless, in the respect that AIOps tools bring a new level of automation to the identification and remediation to IT operations, they're worth exploring. If you find that you struggle to keep up with the scale and rapid rate of change of your environments, AIOps tools may help you work more efficiently and comprehensively.
If you're an IT engineer, you're probably familiar with infrastructure-as-Code, or IaC. IaC tools automate the provisioning of infrastructure.
Today, however, forward-thinking IT teams are extending the IaC methodology to domains beyond infrastructure. Using an approach known as policy-as-code and tools like OPA, IT operations teams can now automate virtually any type of IT process using code-based configuration files.
When your organization first moved to the cloud, you were probably able to manage the cloud well enough using monitoring and administration tools designed specifically for whichever public cloud platform you were operating.
We now live in a world in which a majority of organizations are using multiple clouds. Multicloud architectures add significant complexity to IT management. To manage multiple clouds effectively, you need IT operations tools that are purpose-built for that challenge.
The tools must not only be capable of collecting and analyzing data from multiple public clouds, but should also be able to reveal how problems or trends in one of your clouds impact the performance of workloads hosted in a different cloud.
Cloud Auditing and Security Posture Management
IT operations teams don't specialize in security. That's the job of the security team.
Still, given the surge in security threats, modern IT operations teams need to make security a central priority. They can no longer treat security as something that someone else handles using siloed processes.
This requires, among other types of solutions, IT operations tools that can audit cloud environments and identify cloud configuration mistakes that may lead to a breach. By validating the security posture of the cloud environments they administer, rather than waiting on security engineers to do that work, IT teams help their organizations stay a step ahead of threat actors.
Container Image Management
Containerized applications have become widespread over the past decade. Deploying and managing these applications require tools that automate container image management.
IT operations teams can do this using container registries, like Docker Hub or the registries provided by public clouds. You can also use general-purpose artifact repositories (which can manage container images in addition to other types of data, like application binaries that are packaged in other ways) to handle container images.
Technically speaking, you can deploy and manage container images manually. But that's not practical when you have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of container instances in your environment.
To manage all of those instances effectively, IT operations teams need container orchestration tools. Kubernetes has become the go-to solution on this front, although alternative orchestrators exist.
Real-Time Identity Management
In the past, managing user identities and roles was relatively straightforward. You used a platform such as Active Directory to keep track of your users and access rights.
In modern environments, however, solutions like Active Directory typically don't suffice on their own. Depending on which clouds you use, you may or may not be able to extend an Active Directory-based identity management strategy into them. In addition, heightened cybersecurity threats make it critical to be able to revoke unnecessary privileges as soon as a user's role changes, a task that is hard to do automatically using conventional identity management tools.
For that reason, modern ITOps teams need identity management tools that work across all types of cloud and on-premises environments. Ideally, the tools will also be capable of managing user roles and entitlements in real time in order to enforce the principle of least privilege.
Conclusion: New Challenges Mean New IT Operations Tools
If you haven't assessed your IT operations tool set in a while, it's worth stepping back and evaluating whether your tools continue to meet your IT management needs. IT environments and processes have changed tremendously over the past decade, and IT pros in many cases need a new breed of tools to meet new challenges.