Over the past few weeks I have been in a number of meetings with current and prospective customers talking about the growth challenges they are facing in 2012, due to the economic recovery. I get true insight from these meetings, and lately, I have been hearing a consistent concern from a number of these conversations. Their number one concern: will their IT staff be able to keep up with the company as it grows? My response to this has raised a few eyebrows; IT needs to fundamentally shift the way it approaches business. IT can no longer be just a department that keeps the lights on–it needs to think strategically like any other business unit, focusing on ROI and efficiency.
CIOs need to shift how they view the evolution of their IT infrastructure. The siloed, unconnected view of application stacks and the servers that run them just doesn’t cut it anymore. Enterprises need to be able to scale for growth and leadership in the 21st century which means moving to a cloud-based infrastructure with a focus on SaaS. This new approach can be daunting, especially with so many industry leading companies adding confusion by claiming to provide a “private-cloud” solution with all the benefits of scalability and elasticity needed to keep up with growing application demands, when in reality, they are simply providing just another server management tool. For your company to truly transform and compete, you will need a 21st century IT infrastructure – an Event Enabled Enterprise that sees your business from the application down, not from the server up.
Take a recent example, this last Christmas when Wal-Mart’s web store went down over Black Friday. You know heads were rolling as execs were frantically calling, telling their IT staff to do whatever it takes to get the systems back online. They didn’t care what server it was running on, what OS version it was using, or whether that server was located in the local or backup datacenter. They just wanted it fixed so they could receive orders. This is how enterprise infrastructure should run – from an application centric view. Applications are what business units rely on to function properly, not the servers they run on. With that in mind – IT should be planning their resources based on application demand, not server demand.
A common argument I hear when this idea is brought up is that server allocation is still vital since that is the finite resource that applications run on. What? That type of thinking is equivalent to allocating rail-road tracks, instead of the trains that run on them. Think about it, if you are in charge of ensuring all passengers can get to their destinations on time and it’s rush hour, you would worry about having enough trains running. The same holds true when business demand picks up–you worry about critical applications not being able to operate at peak efficiency. The fact that they require servers to run them should be something relegated to the infrastructure itself. By having intelligent infrastructure that knows an application requires specific servers, with specific software running on them, IT administrators can do true business application planning, and their infrastructure can bring up the supporting software automatically.
This conversion is the first step to transforming the infrastructure server into a commodity, something that can be shared and repurposed based on the application demands of your business. This basis is a core principle of cloud computing as defined by the NIST – creating a shared pool of resources. This is not the same as utilizing a hypervisor to create many virtual machines. A hypervisor creates multiple virtual machines on the same computer, sharing the same physical components (memory, CPU, RAM, etc.) A private cloud creates a shared pool of resources regardless of physical or virtual machine type – something some of the biggest names in the industry cannot do. Cloud computing is supposed to make infrastructure more flexible, not lock them in to a specific hardware or software vendor.
An application centric operational model is not a new concept but up until recently with the introduction of products like TIBCO’s Silver, it was just a pleasant theory for how enterprise IT departments should operate. With the rapid pace of application development, the increased demand on businesses to react in real time and the advent of new solutions in cloud computing, this theory is not only a reality but a necessity for any company striving to be a leader in the 21st century.