What Businesses Want from IT

Responding to the Increased Demands on IT

Boosting efficiency, keeping risk down, getting and staying agile.

Did you know that the IT department doesn’t exist just to play with technology? Who knew? Apparently, it’s far more important for this increasingly critical department to take its eye off the gear and turn a bit more toward the business.

This attention shift isn’t just a good idea; it’s a trend being driven hard by CEOs and business-unit leaders who have important needs to meet. Technology pros that yearn to stay ahead of the curve need to hone their business chops.

Expectations of high returns on large data center investments are climbing ever higher, and companies are much less willing to assume risk. They want a data center that has these three characteristics:

  • Improves operational efficiency
  • Reduces business risk
  • Is flexible and agile enough to support changing business needs

Increased Efficiency

Does your boss ever walk into your office and say something like this?

“Bob, we need to have a talk about your performance. You’re just too darn efficient, and we need you to dial that back a few notches. If you could do that on Saturday, that would be greeeeeeat.”

I didn’t think so. If anything, IT departments are under grow- ing pressure to increase efficiency. Improving efficiency generally means changing the way that IT operates — changes that involve anything from small-course corrections to major initiatives.

One of the greatest benefits of hyperconverged architecture is that it generates efficiency benefits without significantly disrupting operations.

Using time more effectively

As poet Delmore Schwartz put it, “Time is the fire in which we burn.” For those who slog through repetitive, mundane tasks every day, truer words were never written. When it comes to business, any time wasted on mundane work really is burned time — time that could have been spent advancing business objectives.

Management wants IT to spend its time wisely. Traditional IT operations simply won’t cut it anymore. Neither will pro- longed product evaluation and integration processes or extended return-on-investment metrics. IT needs to be faster and leaner than ever before.

Matching skills to tasks

Step back for a second to think about what the IT staff really has to deal with on a day-to-day basis: servers, hypervisors, storage devices, network accelerators, backup software, backup appliances, replication technology, and a whole lot more. Forget for a moment about the physical effects of this plethora of equipment on the data center. Instead, consider the human toll.

Every one of these devices has a separate administrative con- sole that operators have to learn. Also — let’s face reality — not every device plays nicely with every other device.

When each device requires vastly different sets of skills to operate, each skill requires ongoing training. Even when you can get a few people in IT trained on everything in the data center, at some point those people may move on, and you may have trouble finding new employees who have the same set of skills.

In addition, every time you bring a unique resource into the environment, you need staff to manage it. As that resource grows, you may need even more staff to keep up with the workload. In essence, you’re creating resource islands as you forge ahead.

Resource islands are inherently inefficient. The broader you can make the IT environment, the easier it is to achieve operational economies of scale.

The bottom line: IT staffs are being crushed under the weight of legacy infrastructure. Each unique resource requires unique skills, and companies aren’t adding IT staff at a pace that keeps up with technical needs.

Managing resources wisely

The laws of physics are immutable forces in the land of IT, and these natural laws become apparent when you walk around a data center:

  • You find that two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time, which is why equipment occupies separate racks.
  • You discover the laws of thermodynamics as you walk behind a rack and feel the blast of hot air, and then walk under the cooling equipment and feel a chill.
  • Finally, you encounter electromagnetism as you watch electricity-sucking hardware whir away. (On the plus side, all the blinking LEDs put on a pretty impressive light show.)

All these physical resources — space, power, and cooling — require cash to keep running. Every piece of equipment added to a data center requires the use of all these resources.

Continuing to add equipment without considering your use of resources will do nothing to increase your overall efficiency.

Meeting budgets

Think back to your first virtualization project. Why did you undertake it? I’m willing to bet that you wanted to make better use of your resources and improve on what used to be a 15 percent average utilization rate for servers.

If you’re not using all your equipment at a reasonable level, you’re leaving money on the table. You may not be enjoying the maximum return on an incredibly expensive investment.

You can make your IT budget more efficient and serve the business better by rethinking the way you provide data center services. Don’t think about each individual resource as its own island. Instead, think at a higher level. Rather than focusing on individual resources, focus on overall scale of all resources as your standard operating procedure.

Reduced Risk

Risk can worm its way into an otherwise flawless IT system in several places:

  • Procurement: With so much hardware to maintain in the data center, staying on top of all the little details can be difficult. Before you purchase any new equipment, ask yourself questions such as these:
    • Are you sure that the storage-area network (SAN) you’ve selected has enough capacity in terms of terabytes and performance in terms of IO operations per second (IOPS)?
    • If you’re expanding an existing system, will the expansion create a risk of downtime or data loss?
    • If you’re upgrading an existing storage array, are all the component firmware revisions the same or sup- ported by the new hardware?
  • Operations: Generally, you need two of everything in a data center to maintain the levels of availability that the business expects. If you don’t, you run the risk of prolonged outages, which management tends to dislike.Redundancy is the norm in IT, but it’s an expensive standard. Moreover, it requires personnel who have spe- cialized skills to maintain the different high-availability features that ship with each product.
  • Data protection: Too many companies don’t plan their data protection mechanisms carefully or rely on many services provided by many companies. As a result, the blame game typically occurs when something unexpected happens. When recovery is Job One, no one wants vendors to fight about who’s at fault. Keep in mind: Data protection isn’t about backup; it’s about recovery.

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and IT staff want — and need — to lower risk in their organizations. Systems and applications must remain highly available, and data must be safe. Unfortunately, as more diverse hardware is installed, achieving these critical goals becomes more difficult.

Companies can reduce risk by adopting a hyperconverged architecture. Hyperconverged systems include all the components required to make a data center operate without the complexity of legacy solutions.

Improved Agility

Getting a new product or service to market quickly often results in long-term business advantages. Today’s commerce markets are cutthroat places, and IT issues can’t be allowed to get in the way of critical business operations. It’s one of the reasons that the public cloud is such a draw for business users.

Any lag in delivering what the business needs could result in the business taking IT matters into its own hands — the so-called “Shadow IT” problem, which happens more often than you think. If a business constituent requests a function or service that IT can’t be as responsive to, then the business constituent, with the swipe of a credit card, can procure a cloud-based service without IT’s involvement — or IT’s knowledge that it exists. Shadow IT practices have the potential to introduce risk.

To meet the demands of business units for more speed and agility, many IT departments simply build larger and larger infrastructures, which are inflexible and difficult to manage. Eventually, such a system turns into a house of cards, and the slightest problem can topple it. This scenario is hardly the hallmark of an agile IT infrastructure.

Agility and speed are two mantras that every IT person should adopt. It’s critical to ensure that the infrastructure is agile so that IT can quickly and easily deploy new applications and services in response to business demands.

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