The problem with automated provisioning (II of III)

The second of my articles on the macro-level issues with (automated) provisioning and focusing again on the theme of complexity as a result of “No. of Instances” x “Freq. of Change” described in the previous article “The problem with automated provisioning (I of III)“, but this time comparing an Enterprise Data Centre build-out versus a typical “Web Scale” Data Centre build-out.

Having built out both examples demonstrated I find the below a useful comparison when describing some of the issues around automated provisioning and occasionally why there are misconceptions about it from those who typically deliver systems from one of these ‘camps’ and not the other.



Basically the number of systems within a typical Enterprise Data Centre (and within that Enterprise itself) is larger than that in a Web Scale (or HPC) Data Centre (or supported by that organisations), and the differing number of components that support those systems is higher too. For instance at the last Data Centre build out I led there were around eight different Operating Systems being implemented alone. This base level of complexity, which is then exasperated because of the Frequency of having to patch and update this (as demonstrated by “Automated Provisioning Complexity = No. of Instances x Freq. of Change” equation) significantly impacts any adoption of automated provisioning (it makes defining operational procedures more complex too).

Web Scale


Frankly a Web Scale build out is much more likely to use a greater level of standardisation to be able to drive the level of scale and scaling required to service the user requests and to maintain the system as a whole (here’s a quote from Jeff Dean, Google Fellow, “If you’re running 10,000 machines, something is going to die every day.”). This is not to say that there is not a high level of complexity inherent in these types of system, it’s just that in order to cope with the engineering effort required to ensure that the system can scale to service many hundreds of millions of requests it may well require a level of component standardisation well beyond the typical you’d see in an Enterprise type deployment (where functionality and maintenance of business process is paramount). Any complexity is more likely to be in the architecture to cope with said scaling, for instance distributed computational proximity algorithms (i.e. which server is nearest to me physically so as to reduce latency versus which servers are under most load so as to process the request as optimally as possible), or in the distributed configuration needed to maintain said system as components become available and are also de-commissioned (for whatever reason).

Automated Provisioning Complexity = No. of Instances x Freq. of Change

At the most base level provisioning a thousand machines which all have the same OS, stack and code base, with updated configuration is easier to set up than a thousand machines which use a mixture of four or five Operating Systems, which all have differing patch schedules and patch methods, with a diverse infrastructure and application software stack and multiple code bases. I suspect that upon reading this article you may think that it was an overtly obvious statement to make, but it is the fundamentals that I keep seeing people trip up on over and over again which infuriates me no end, and so, yes, expect another upcoming article on the “top” architectural issues that I encounter too.

HPC, or High Performance Computing, the third major branch of computing, build-outs usually follow the model above for that of “web scale” ones. I have an upcoming article comparing the three major branches of computing usage, Enterprise, Web Scale, and HP, in much greater detail, however for the time being the comparison above is adequate to demonstrate the point I am drawing to your attention; that of complexity of environment exasperating implementation of an automated provisioning system. Hope you enjoyed this article, it is soon to be followed by a reappraisal and revised look at Enterprise and Web Scale provisioning.