Enterprise IT infrastructure in the age of cloud: A guide for CIOs
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Virtualization will continue to play a key role in helping IT become more agile; IT demand is on the rise; and IT skills are changing. That's how David Cappuccio, a Gartner analyst for the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy, summed up the trends he believes will have the most impact on IT infrastructure and operations strategy at enterprise organizations. Speaking at the 2013 Gartner Symposium/ITxpoin Orlando, Fla., Cappuccio laid out 10 technologies (some tried and true; some new) that CIOs should be incorporating into their 2014 IT strategy.
1. Software-defined networking (SDN): With SDN, technicians can use software to centrally control the network and quickly adjust for things like traffic patterns, workload requirements or even natural disasters. "It dramatically shortens provisioning time," Cappuccio said. And Gartner isn't the only one espousing SDNs; Facebook thinks so, too.
2. Software-defined storage (SDS): The "software-defined" trend continues with storage. Traditional storage networks are constrained by hardware and data formats, Cappuccio said. Because SDS is reliant on software rather than hardware, data can be stored where it makes sense and then pooled together. "If you go back 20 or 30 years and look at what some of the major vendors were trying to do with storage, this is almost the same thing, except they tried to do it all with their own hardware," he said.
3. Hybrid cloud services: Cloud is a valid solution -- but maybe not for everything. That's where hybrid cloud services come into play. More providers are offering specific services to businesses, giving IT the flexibility to either build or buy, Cappuccio said. Done right, the customer is none the wiser about where the service lives or who did the building, which frees up IT to focus on the essential applications while outsourcing the non-essential ones. A reminder: Whether IT builds or buys, the department still owns the end-user experience.
If you go back 20 or 30 years and look at what some of the major vendors were trying to do with storage, this is almost the same thing, except they tried to do it all with their own hardware.
analyst, Gartner Inc.
4. Integrated systems: Not a new term to IT, integrated systems used to be called appliances, and those appliances each did one thing really well. Today, vendors (either alone or with partners) are integrating systems into one stack that contains server, storage and network capabilities. Gartner calls this a "fabric-enabled infrastructure." Going forward, Gartner believes the systems will become even more integrated to the point where resources can be shared globally.
"This integrated idea is a way to look at the utilization of space -- especially data center space -- more efficiently," Cappuccio said.
5. Applications acceleration: Customers are not using a big, monolithic app to do everything, Cappuccio said. Instead, they have lots of apps, and each app is pretty good at doing just one thing. How can IT use that trend to its advantage? Take a page out of the Agile development handbook: Speed up the app development cycle by building small apps quickly, pushing them out the door and becoming adept at iterations. "It makes customers happy and it actually makes development much easier," he said.
6. Internet of Things (aka the Internet of Everything): Yes, wearable smart electronics, shoes and tattoos are on track to becoming a billion dollar industry. But for IT, that's not necessarily the best news. Many of these technologies have unique IP addresses and all of them create data that could ultimately be used for analytics. The job of monitoring all this new stuff will eventually fall to IT, Cappuccio said. That light at the end of the tunnel you think you see, "it's really a train coming at you," he said.
7. Open Compute Project: When Facebook custom built its data center in Oregon, the goal was to create an easy-to-maintain system that cut down on energy consumption. Then they made all of the specs and designs public by launching the Open Compute Project. "The long-term agenda? Let's get other vendors involved so we can start building common devices," Cappuccio said. Racks, storage devices, servers -- you name it. That kind of standardization could drive down the price points -- a good thing for any size company -- and it could open the door to powerful initiatives, such as sharing power supply. That won't happen tomorrow, but it's something we need to pay attention to," he said.
8. Intelligent data centers: Another stop on the "software defined" tour, "intelligent data centers" can help businesses "move and define workloads based on business need," Cappuccio said. Where your computing resources reside, in other words, matters less than how they are managed. Virtualization plays a big role here, but so does culture, he said. "As we go to a heavily virtualized environment, the real problem becomes how do we set the organization in place?" One tried-and-truism that still applies is to get your IT team to break out of its silos and start thinking horizontally rather than vertically.
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9. IT demand: Just to put a number on what most CIOs already know: Employees today can access 14.4 billion-plus webpages, 800,000 iPhone apps and 800,000 Android apps on the four device types (on average) they use. Demand for IT isn't going anywhere but up, Cappuccio stressed. That's strikingly clear when looking at the compounded average growth rate for network bandwidth (up 35%), storage capacity (up 50%) and server workloads (up 10%).
10. Your disruptive workforce: Along with the above nine IT trends, today's workforce is helping to drive organizational disruption. The tenure for younger employees is shorter today than ever before; the Baby Boomers are turning 65 and retiring, taking institutional knowledge with them, and skills are shifting, Cappuccio said. CIOs and IT leaders cannot think about technological needs without factoring in these employment trends. This might mean getting HR involved in long-term IT planning, he said.
That last theme on finding the right skills struck a chord with Damon Mayes, director of educational and information technologies at NorQuest College in Alberta, Canada. Today, the pace at which technology evolves sends mixed signals to the organization. It can generate ideas like this one: "If the technology is changing so fast, why isn't the business getting the value out of IT that's expected?" he said.
But that kind of thinking has less to do with the technology, which Mayes described as "the easy part," and more to do with talking the talk of the business. Getting both sides on the same page requires soft skills from IT that are hard to find, Mayes said, such as telling a story, breaking down dense IT language into every day conversation, and even being charismatic.
"You have to be enchanting," he said. And that's not necessarily a skill included in most IT job postings these days.