Making Enterprise IT a competitive weapon ‘again’ for your business.

Some are starting to question the continued existence of Enterprise IT. I am hearing an increasing number of people say that, for infrastructure and application platform delivery, the era of Enterprise IT operating private datacenters, is over.  AWS and Azure have transformational models that have already won; now it’s just a matter of time. Sure, they say, Enterprise IT will be around for a long time but will simply exist to support legacy systems and provide a token oversight to the public cloud infrastructure providers. The game is over. Amazon and its ilk win.

Hold on. While I agree that Amazon and Microsoft have created very innovative offerings this is far from the last inning.  If Enterprise IT fails to address disruptive change then I guess “failure” becomes a very real possibility. If, however, IT can embrace and extend the same concepts that are delivering these improvements within web datacenters, then Enterprise IT can, and will, reestablish itself as a key competitive differentiator for business.

The new world of modern applications looks nothing like today’s client server world.  Modern next-generation computing drives a fundamental infrastructure change on a level unseen since the transition from mainframe to client-server computing.  So, unlike most of the advancements over the past 20 years, adapting requires a radically different approach to achieve success.

The New Rules:

Therefore, if you’re invested in Enterprise IT, and you believe significant disruption is at hand, and you want to leverage it (vs. being consumed by it), these ten recommendations will maximize your success. These recommendations include technical requirements, business practices, general advice and encompass key elements in every area.

    1.   Demand Incompatibility

A natural course of action with any new technology is to embrace/ extend legacy stuff. In fact, most major vendors attempt to define this as “critical”. Don’t fall for it. If the change is disruptive than plan to create two worlds (new and old) instead of trying to merge them.  The strength of disruptive technology is almost always maximized by focus.

As client server computing evolved from mainframes, most IT organizations simply created two environments and then put new applications into the most appropriate environment creating only high-level interactions between the two. This maximized both environments.

Simply stated, putting something new on top of something old does not make the old stuff better.

    2.    Solve for the 90% of the target

In terms of this new disruption (I will call it hyper-scale computing but it involves many elements) Item 1 denotes the need to build a new environment. When specifying this environment there will be a desire to maximize flexibility driving maximum use.  In this case, building an optimized cloud means optimized around the mainstream needs and excludes the corner cases. A big reason for this disruption is the use of a more common commodity infrastructure.  For this new technology, keeping it simple is critical.

It is likely that many businesses will have applications that require extreme performance (or other capabilities). Consider leaving those applications in the “custom” category; exclude them from the scope of work.

     3.   It must be “Scale Out”

On the technical front, several elements are foundational in hyper-scale computing so insure all new elements have a “scale-out” architecture (vs. scale-up).  Scale-out is foundational and a requirement for all system elements.

    4.   Require (EaaS) Everything as a Service

Regardless of whether you deploy network capabilities, data services, security services or other platform elements every resource or function should be projected within the system as a service. Each service should be multi-tenant, include user-provisioning capabilities, and provide use/cost accounting capabilities.

     5.  Require Control

While most assume that QOS is a requirement of any multitenant services architecture, it is so critical that I’m calling special attention to it. Hyper-scale computing is all about being about to share a massive amount of resources across a massive number of applications. Good control is paramount.

     6.   Require a “Dynamic” environment

It goes without saying that this massive environment needs to not only be robust, it must also be modifiable in real-time. Pay attention to any system or service that requires downtime. 

    7.   Merge development, test and production infrastructure

If you look at AWS, it does not distinguish customers or application types. You simply log in, select the services/ service levels and proceed.  The service themselves are robust enough to not let individual application faults propagate through the system.

By merging your development, test, and production environments gains will be made in several ways. A single environment is more flexible; applications releasing to production will not require migration and data environments are more easily snapshotted for test environments.

     8.   Require only one type of “Open” - Simple Open API’s

There is more hype on the topic of open and “lock in” than probably any other topic in tech. Folks obsess about wanting/not wanting to use open source and the need for software to use certain protocols. I would argue that only a couple of things matter. First, insure your services have open (and preferably used elsewhere) APIs. Second, look for services API’s that easily plug into cloud frameworks.

This affords the customer with maximum flexibility and the supplier maximum opportunity to provide value.  Unless you are planning to write code internally, demanding open source is not going to provide any “open” benefit and might diminish differentiation.

    9.   Require Analytics

The old adage that you can’t manage what you can’t measure is very true here. Taking it to the next step… you can’t improve what you can’t analyze. With web-scale systems analytics are critical.

    10.   Wait for it

When we started our new company, Formation Data Systems (which is building a new converged data  platform as a service), we were surprised by how few startups were working on solutions that really address the overall competitiveness of IT in Data Management. In fact, one industry CTO told me he’d reviewed 110 storage startups and Formation Data Systems was the only one he had seen to date. Over half were doing the same thing - some variant of flash in an array…

The point is that Enterprise IT industry is just beginning to realize that there is a very, very large need. True discontinuity is coming.  This must be the curse of leveraging client server computing for so long.  Most people in IT have never experienced a sea change like this.

Momentum is now building. It is clear to me that, with the right technology and a willingness to break with legacy technology, Enterprise IT can again become a competitive weapon for today’s businesses. 

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