Datacenter architectures are evolving everywhere: new designs leveraging new technologies that cut across the technology silos of our organization structures. The increasing use of software to deliver capabilities allows more rapid adoption through more controlled experiments that lead to more rapid success, proof, and deployment, but we are stalled in our efforts to innovate by routine, business as usual, comfort, and fear of changes that affect how things are done and who does them. Value delivered by new solutions merits our full attention, and it is only through value and the measurement thereof that we can choose which technologies to employ.
Innovation is an iterative, constant process executed by people who thrive on improvement, and it raises so many important questions. Who does the experiments and understands the impact of success on various people in technology-specific roles? Where do the tools required to prove the solutions come from? Who must own the evaluation of Software Defined Networking technologies? The Network team? The Virtualization team? Who must evaluate Software Defined Storage? The Storage team? The Virtualization team? If we adopt it, who owns it? Where does additional headcount come from? What if we don’t need as many people?
Impact questions are stifling because they affect people--people we care about, and lots of innovation is actively stalled when individuals and leaders see that they may need new skills, new organization, or worse: not be needed at all. This behavior is understandable, and requires delicate attention, but we must all fight the urge to protect what we did yesterday and continue in the same manner without review. It may be that yesterday’s methods are still the best to solve the problems at hand, but only an evaluation of value can tell us. The inputs to our decisions are constantly changing, and unless we revisit the reasons we chose the current model, we cannot know if it is still the best.
Customer Story: Innovation is Hard
I met with a large healthcare customer recently, an innovator in very many ways: they have invested in automation for reliable provisioning; they have invested in software defined networking to provide agility and scale staff; they are exploring software defined storage to reduce their largest capital expenditure; they are producing software and solutions for sale using a variety of self-service solutions; they are exploring their End User Computing options; and they want to explore microsegmentation because of its impact on their security profile. This is great: they are realizing value from many new solutions and planning to understand the value of more.
The challenges come in operationalizing solutions that cut across the organization to increase adoption of what individual teams have done. Automation was implemented by the Infrastructure team. The software defined networking is being driven by the Networking team and is not integrated into the Infrastructure team’s automation solution. The software development group leverages cloud resources that are provisioned by individuals and exist outside the scope and visibility of the core Infrastructure team. They have not changed their EUC strategy because theie comparisons have used older architectures and associated costs. Conversations about using the Automation solution to provision the resources needed by the development organization stalled over concerns about ownership and headcount. Automation is not available as a self-service resource to enable rapid innovation for people with very short term needs (one-third of all) due to fears of abuse. The integration of Automation and SDN hasn’t happened for many of the same reasons, and there is further question about whether their preferred technology is truly viable given how difficult it has been to implement so far.
This is an innovative customer exploring new technologies with an appetite to adopt them that still struggles with transformation, and they are not alone. We often talk about people, process, and technology as the three elements of transformation. In so many cases and in so many ways, technology is the easy part.
Value is the Metric and the Answer
The way forward must be an objective assessment of value. If the development organization can be made measurably more productive and outweigh the cost of additional investment in Automation, that is the correct decision. If SDN can increase staff scale sufficient to justify the investment in the technology and integration with the Automation platform, then it should be done. If a new EUC architecture can increase Clinical productivity and/or lower the total cost per user over an analysis period, it must be piloted, validated, and selected. Business as Usual has a set of costs. Plans for the near term have known costs. Anything else we evaluate as an alternative must be weighed against those known and expected costs.
For the large customer I mentioned, we are going to partner with them on the analysis of SDN alternatives, see if we have a more valuable alternative. We are going to do a more detailed assessment of their Clinical Environment and EUC infrastructure to determine if our model will deliver better results at lower cost. We are going to evaluate whether we can have a marked impact on development innovation with self-service requests and appropriate resources to support it. We are going to help them show a substantial cost savings and performance improvements using software defined storage. In sum, we’re going to help them model and prove better methods that will lead to a higher functioning infrastructure and increased productivity for those who rely upon it.
These partnerships provide terrific value. For our customers, they provide better decision support resources based on facts and analyses using their data, their cost models, their assumptions. Innovation and the value derived thereby is how IT has leapt to the forefront of competitive differentiation in so many industries and will do for more.