Complexity – The Killer of Agility?

complexityI’ve said a few times that the data center of today isn’t the data center of yesterday nor is it the data center of tomorrow. In fact, in “The Data Center of Tomorrow” I wrote that the: “data center will be a combination of internal and external systems that combine to create an agile, efficient and effective technology delivery platform.”

While I believe that will be the case in the near future (if it isn’t already the case today), the data center of tomorrow has the potential to add complexity to the organization’s IT systems and platforms. This complexity may just be a simple replacement of other types of complexity or it may be adding complexity to the data center. Either way, complexity has the potential to be an agility killer if it isn’t managed or planned for correctly.

Complexity has always existed within the data center. From the first day of data center existence, IT professionals have had to manage complexity but in recent years there’s been quite a bit of growth in complex systems within the data center. With companies increasing their use of virtualization within their data centers, connecting data centers with the cloud and implementing new platforms and systems every year, the level of complexity continues to increase.

Without proper thinking and planning, this complexity can have a negative effect on agility within the data center. There are a few things that organizations can do to attempt to manage complexity within the data center while keeping agility at the forefront of the IT group and the data center. A few ideas for managing complexity are:

  • Get visibility into the platforms throughout the organization to ensure that the IT group understands what platforms the business has
  • Get visibility beyond the platforms to allow IT to understand the business processes that are driving platform changes
  • Ensure open communication channels between all groups within the business to ensure when a new platform is needed or wanted, IT is informed and involved in the decision making process
  • Have a proper business technology strategy that drives all technology projects.
  • Build a technology council and invite members from all areas of the business to allow different opinions and insights into the technology strategy of the organization

As you can see from these ideas may not seem that great at first, they are a starting point for understanding the technological systems and platforms within the company. By understanding your platforms, you can understand the complexity that exists (or might exist in the future) and help keep agility alive.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

Does IT Agility Equate to Business Survival?

IT Agility Key to Survival?I’ve been writing about agility within the data center and IT group recently. I truly believe the future of IT (and the business) requires that those of us in IT rethink how and what we deliver to our organizations.

While reading a white paper titled “Agile IT Empowers Business Success”, I ran across an intriguing sentence:  “If the business can’t adapt, it may not survive.“ I’d actually change that to say that, in most instances, if a business can’t adapt, it will not survive.

To enable a business to adapt, a business must take a look at a all aspects of their business. They need to look at systems, technology, processes, people and the culture of the business. While the entire business needs to be analyzed and transformed, one of the focal points for any organization should be their IT group.

In order to drive this adaptability, organization’s require both an agile business and an agile IT group, which is something I wrote a bit about last week.  In that previous post, I argue that the IT group must transform itself into an efficient and agile group in order to help the business become more agile.

I’ll go a step further and say that the IT group must be one of the leaders of the transformative change throughout the business.  Adapting to the fast-changing business environment today requires a great deal of technological agility so it makes sense to have the IT group be at the forefront of this change.

This type of transformation isn’t an easy undertaking. It requires an organization take a look at all aspects of their business including processes, technology, systems, people and culture.  While I’ll leave the ‘people’ and ‘culture’ topics for others to work through, the processes, technology and systems fall squarely in the wheelhouse of the IT group.

One of the areas that can be reviewed fairly easily for agility (or lack thereof) is the data center.  The data center is the backbone of the modern organization and, as such, plays a large role in determining how agile and adaptable the business can be. If that data center cannot provide the agility needed for today’s fast-paced environment, the business will suffer.

Some organizations are hesitant to undertake a transformative project like this due to the costs. While there can be large initial costs to replace legacy systems or build out new capabilities, these costs can usually be recouped in a short time from lower operational and management costs throughout the following years.

In order for companies to survive and thrive in the future, their data centers and their IT groups will need to be operating from an agile mindset. No longer can the CIO and IT group be comfortable in their old legacy systems and thinking – they must develop and maintain an agile approach to the business to allow that business to survive.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

A Primary Goal of an Agile Data Center – Portability

Data Center PortabilityIf you ask one hundred people (or companies) what it means to have an agile data center, you’ll most likely get a large number of diverse answers. While you’ll most likely hear different answers from different people, I think many of those answers would fall into line with what I wrote in “The Right Services in the Right Way.” In that article, I wrote that having an agile data center means that organizations are capable of “delivering the right services at the right time in the right way to the right user.”

The above definition is fairly broad but I think it is a good one. It encapsulates the entire range of things that an agile data center can do for an organization. Building and managing an agile data center isn’t easy nor is it ‘cheap’ in the short-term, but building a data center that provides agility should provide long term benefits including the potential for lower operating costs over the long term.

When I talk to people about the agile data center, I use the concept of ‘portability’ as an example of what it means to own and manage an agile data center. When I talk about portability, I’m talking about the ability to move an application around to ensure it is in the ‘right’ location to deliver the best results to the business. Whether that location is the cloud or the data center shouldn’t matter to the organization.

Trevor Clark, partner at Tech Research Asia (TRA), claims that approximately 78% of companies surveyed want or expect portability of their data center applications and systems. While that survey was conducted mainly in Australia, I’d suspect similar results regardless of where the respondents are located.

Portability of applications (and data) is only achievable if a data center is built and managed with an agile mindset. If your data center is slow moving and legacy-driven your ability to move data and applications to the ‘right’ location will be negatively affected. That doesn’t mean that you can’t push for portability within a non-agile data center but it does mean that it isn’t going to be as easy and cost effective to accomplish as it would be for an agile data center.

Having the ability to move applications, data and even workloads from the data center to the cloud (or to other data centers within your organization) is vital to ensuring that your systems and networks are optimized and running as efficiently as possible.

There are many challenges that need to be overcome in order to make portability a reality. Applications need to be rewritten, data portability processes and issues need to be addressed and vendors need to be chosen and contracts negotiated. Even with these challenges, the act of portability should be pretty straightforward for those companies who have built an agile data center and an agile IT group.

Portability isn’t the only goal of an agile data center but it should be one of the primary ones. How well is your organization positioned for data and application portability?

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

Building the Agile Data Center

computer-data-centerThe modern data center is a complex environment with many different systems and many different objectives. The data center exists to provide an organization with the networking, storage, processing and connectivity features needed to operate in the fast paced, data-driven world we live in today.

Over the years, many data centers have become the dumping ground for all things technology. Systems and applications were continuously added to the data center to the point where many data centers were completely full with no room for add new hardware to support growing needs for processing, storage and network capabilities.

Many organizations have been undergoing data center consolidation projects in recent years. These consolidation projects have resulted in data centers being closed down and services and platforms being moved into other data centers within the organization. As expected, these projects have added to already overburdened data centers but virtualization has again provided real value to the business and the data center by allowing many physical servers to be combined into a virtualized environment.

The use of virtualized environments has led many organizations to look for other ways to use virtualization within their data centers. That search has led many companies to research and implement Software Defined Data Centers (SDDC) as a way to replace or augment their existing data center infrastructure.   With SDDC, it is possible for companies to replace their data center’s infrastructure with a virtualized environment and then deliver services and software as a service.

There’s some obvious benefits found with a software defined approach to the data center. Organizations can remove underutilized servers, replace aging networking and storage systems and improve / increase security. SDDC allows organizations to replace aging systems with new systems which may be easier to manage and maintain.

There are other benefits to SDDC that may not be that obvious. A few of these benefits include more flexibility within the data center, closer integration with cloud systems and vendors and easier change management when changes are needed within the data center. Having the ability to define the entire data center infrastructure allows to companies to move their data center systems and technologies at the speed of business. When new services are required by the business, the IT group can quickly make the necessary changes within the data center to provide that new service or offering.

Another benefit of SDDC is that it allows companies to spend less on hardware for the data center. Of course, hardware will still be needed for SDDC but the hardware won’t be the infrastructure itself. Hardware will simply be the delivery system for the software defined data center. With SDDC, hardware is simply a commodity that can be swapped in and out as needed. Using commodity hardware for all aspects of the data center allows companies to save a great deal of money within the data center.

When I speak with clients about the software defined data center, the one benefit that the majority of people tend to really latch onto is the ability of SDDC to bring agility to the data center. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled The Agile Data Center that touches on the subject of the agility in the data center. In that post, I wrote:

“Agility doesn’t necessarily mean new systems nor does it mean moving your data center to the cloud. It does mean thinking about your data center and your data center capabilities in new ways and then putting in new processes (and perhaps, new systems) to make the data center flexible and agile.”

As I wrote, converting the data center from inflexible and overburdened to agile and able to grow requires new thinking. That new thinking can come from the software defined data center approach. Not only does SDDC allow an organization to rethink the data center but it also allows the data center to become an agile platform for the company to use to design and build agile services for internal and external consumption.

SDDC isn’t the answer to every data center problem, but it is an approach that can be used to bring agility to the data center.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

The Agile Data Center

Server-Room-726x400I participated in the #DataCtrChat Twitter chat last week to join in on the conversation about the Agile Data Center. If you haven’t joined in on a Twitter chat recently, you should. The #DataCtrChat is a great one to be a part of, especially if you’re interested in the data center.

One of the questions in last week’s chat was a simple one, but one that has a complex answer. The question was:

What differentiates an Agile Data Center from a traditional data center?

That is an easy question to ask but is a very difficult one to answer. The answer really depends on how each organization views and uses their data center, but I’m going to try to develop an answer in this post.

Every company has a different view about their data center. Some organizations may outsource their entire data center, others may have some cloud presence combined with an on-premises data center while others may have a completely on-premises data center.

Because each organization has a different definition for their data center, it’s difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all answer to the differences between an agile data center and a traditional data center.

That said, we can easily talk about the concept of ‘agility’ within a data center. Regardless of how a company views and uses their data center, there is always room for an agile mindset within the data center.

Thinking about agility within the data center opens up many new avenues for companies to explore. With agility in the forefront of data center planning combined with proper planning around security and operations, organizations can begin to think about utilizing their data center in new and innovative ways. With an agile mindset, the concept of the data center moves away from being a liability that continuously consumes resources to being an efficient and effective way to deliver services to internal and external clients.

With all of this in mind, we can now take a stab at making a generalized answer to the question posed previously. The difference between an “Agile” data center and the “traditional” data center can be summed up with the following sentence:

An Agile Data Center is one that allows organizations to efficiently and effectively add, remove and change services at the speed of the business, not the speed of technology.

In the ‘old’ days of the data center, if the business needed more processing power, someone in IT would need to find an underutilized server and then add that server to whatever platform was needed. In recent years, virtualization could have been used to build a new virtual machine to be provide the processing power needed.

Before virtualization, finding and operationalizing the necessary processor power could take days, weeks or even months. With virtualization, it usually takes much less time to get systems up and running but there are still delays in most organizations.

With the agile mindset and proper planning and system implementation, organizations can go from delays of days to delays of minutes. Using cloud systems and automation, that request for more processing power could take a few minutes rather than a few days. That’s the power of the agile mindset when it comes to the data center.

Agility doesn’t necessarily mean new systems nor does it mean moving your data center to the cloud. It does mean thinking about your data center and your data center capabilities in new ways and then putting in new processes (and perhaps, new systems) to make the data center flexible and agile.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

Links for March 21 2010

Too Big to Trust? Or Too Untrustworthy to Scale? by Charles H. Green on Trust Matters

Preach it Brother Edelman by Robbin Phillips on Brains On Fire Blog

Marketing Can’t Be Controlled By a Dashboard by Jonathan Baskin on Baskin Dim Bulb

The Key to Strategic Agility by Samuel B. Bacharach on The Bacharach Blog

Winning through agility by Don Sull

The Missing Link In Building The Perfect Team by Terry Starbucker

Perspective matters when considering IT investment budgets by Mark McDonald on The Gartner Blog Network

Did You Grease the Squeaky Wheel? Or Change the Tire? by Vincent Ferrari on KnowHR Blog

What Good Cop Bad Cop Can Teach You About Social Media Strategy by Shannon Paul on Shannon Paul’s Very Official Blog

What should LittleCo’s do? by Dave Winer on Scripting News

Why Alignment Matters by Ed Brenegar on Leading Questions

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