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Eric Wright

The Mechanic - Modern IT and the New View Under the Hood

You don't have to go too many years back to see the difference in what is under the hood of a typical automobile. At this point in the evolution of cars, you would also be hard pressed to find a large percentage of car owners who are keen to get under the hood and tackle issues themselves. How did this happen? This is the question I have which relates very strongly to the shift in modern IT.

Gapping the Spark Plugs

Do you remember the last time you gapped your spark plugs? While I do know what that means, it isn't something I've had to do for quite a while. There are a lot of people who really like to get hands-on with their mechanical work on cars though. This brings up the parallel to modern IT that I want to build.

During the 80s and 90s we saw cars change from very parts-replaceable to more computer-controlled machines. Carburetors were no longer something that you'd have to worry about. Nobody was using a manual choke anymore. Ultimately, the shift towards more modern technology was happening in nearly every auto manufacturer's lineup. Just like we see automation and cloud technologies today, there was resistance.


The classic car owners were reminiscing about the "good old days" while proponents of newer performance parts were rejoicing about the potential new gadgets. Being a mechanic in this time meant that there were new tools needed, and a new way of thinking about how to repair and maintain cars.

Did this signal the end of the mechanic? No. It did change the type of skills a mechanic needed though. What is even more important is the rate at which the change occurred. This matters a lot as we look at the parallel in modern IT.

Car Computers Happened Slowly

Despite the apparent end of the traditional automobile engine, the transition to new computerized parts did take quite a while. Those who adopted the tools early enjoyed the boom of new vehicles in their shops. Those who held out still had lots of traditional cars to maintain for many, many years.

In technology, we are seeing the same transition. We aren't going to wake up and suddenly have no legacy systems to maintain. I actually see a massive benefit to have lived through the heyday of distributed systems. Hot off of the heels of the mainframe and AS/400 transitions, systems administrators were similarly making the move to adapt to the new skills needed to operate distributed systems.

There are still COBOL programmers out there, and they are working. The difference is that there aren't hundreds upon hundreds of them. Now there are many more languages and options available because of the vastly growing marketplace of infrastructure choices.

Auto mechanics weren't suddenly thrust out of the workforce. Auto mechanics who made the move to educate themselves on the new technologies and tools were very smoothly enjoying the new capabilities. It wasn't too long until the shops looked much more modern, just like the cars they were working on.

Welcome to the Transition

This is the beginning of the change for many into the next generation of technology. Shared-nothing, node-based architecture for compute and storage. Hyperconverged platforms, private clouds, SaaS offerings and more are awaiting us to make the change. We also don't need to put away the manuals on our current technology just yet, but before long, SAN storage and traditional IT will look as odd as the images from the mechanic manual above.

It's time to embrace the change.  And one day, we will look back at current server technology and have a chuckle about how "old time" it looks :)

Image source: photograph of "Be your own mechanic"