Three steps to enabling transformative change for the software-defined era.

Whilst few CIOs would regard themselves as ‘complacent’, in some regards we are creatures of habit.

We tend not to re-evaluate the fundamental way in which we work more than we need to; and with the average CIO tenure hovering around the five year mark delivering long term transformative change may prove more than many feel they are able to manage.

After all, it is in the IT function where the concept of when ‘you won’t get fired for buying x…’, where ‘x’ represents systems and solutions delivered by one of the tier one providers in the space, was a fair descriptor of attitude to risk. This needs to change as the entire framework for service delivery in IT is challenged. With the advent of the software defined data centre, we are being forced to consider our ability to deliver this change more urgently.

And of course, I say this whilst working at one of the tier one providers – as at EMC we hold the belief that where a fundamental disruption to the market is going to happen, we need to be leading that change rather than riding along in its wake. And driving this sort of transformative change is high on the agenda of most CIOs that I talk to at the moment.

Why the disruption is happening now

As each day passes, the digitisation of business moves on apace. Businesses assessing their core priorities for growth and innovation are talking about things like predictively spotting new opportunities, innovating in an agile way, delivering personalised experiences to customers etc., as core to their future. All of these trends call on technology to take a more prominent role in service innovation and delivery.

This therefore changes the dynamic for CIOs. When applications were few and data demands were relatively modest, going with the status quo was fine… but in a world of cloud economics and agile development, and with digital data doubling every two years, more and more organisations are trying to flex with a mix of high-performance high quality infrastructure and ‘commodity’ resources. An enterprise-grade ‘hybrid cloud, if you will.

Just as virtualisation brought about a gradual but ultimately dominant trend to rearchitecting the way compute resources were delivered, so storage virtualisation and the rise of the software-defined data centre is bringing about a more holistic shift.

Three steps to enabling the next wave of software-defined growth

So, how does a CIO plan this transformation without committing to excessive risk? If the CIO was safe buying the big brands… how can risk be managed in this more diverse, heterogeneous world?

In my conversations, the answer comes in three parts:

  1. Get visibility into your environment: Most CIOs don’t know what their resources are doing. This isn’t down to anything other than the fact that it has been difficult to track what resources are doing when you need to deploy globally distributed, multi-tenant applications in your ‘private cloud’ environment, apps share resources over multiple physical hosts and therefore incur a cost that is challenging to track and document. Advanced software can now be used to assess the use of resources by these more complicated applications. In some of my recent customer engagements we have found situations where, although infrastructure services were grouped and offered to the business by the traditional Gold/Silver/Bronze approach, there was a significant overconsumption at the Gold tier. Due to a lack of visibility of the “hungry” application, this was leading to a misalignment between what was being purchased (Gold) and what was being cross charged (Silver) resulting in budget discrepancies. By delivering insight into application consumption of resources we were able to correct a $300k per month shortfall for this customer. In addition we now have a better method for planning and budgeting going forward, and are looking at more efficient methods of delivering the SLA.
  1. Use that insight to optimise your resources: Once a CIO has a view of how applications are mapped, decisions can be made about how to optimize the available resources. Applications environments have traditionally been oversized to ensure availability and most customers are running applications on tier 1 resources when not strictly necessary. This is largely due to the consolidation of environments that have happened over the last few years where most customers, due to complexity, have only had two-three tiers available in their infrastructure. In this world of hyperscale applications, and with huge changes happening on a weekly basis in many enterprises, more flexibility in your resource tiers is needed. The introduction of hyperscale elastic cloud resources, software SANs that capitalise on commodity hardware and orchestration platforms that let you burst to public cloud resources in a secure and controlled manner will be key to helping businesses optimise their use of IT resources in the software-defined context. We have done some transformational work with our customers to look at how, by leveraging our breadth of technology, we can diversify their infrastructure environment to provide the right resource for the right cost. This, combined with the level of automation and management that we can deliver across both their current infrastructure and the new infrastructure, is leading to cost savings of up to 60%.
  1. Automate your infrastructure to deliver at speed: In a world where application deployment times are shortening by orders of magnitude it is essential that our customers are able to provide infrastructure 10x or even 100x faster than they did in the past. Everyone is aware of the trend in the industry towards cloud and the adoption of “Shadow IT” by the development community. This is driven by a constant market pressure to innovate and deliver business outcomes faster. This is an easy problem to solve for a startup company with no legacy environment to deal with, however many businesses need to deliver this agility and flexibility internally. After all, a public provider will never fully understand your business as well as the internal IT department can; but IT needs help in developing its agility. No longer will internal IT departments be rewarded for delivering efficient infrastructure; that is “table stakes” in today’s environment .The challenge for CIOs today is to move the team’s resources up the stack, to help the business achieve its goals more directly.

We’ve worked with hundreds of customers going down this route and helped them rearchitect their IT service delivery function. The biggest challenge with any change on this scale is getting the will behind it; most CIOs we meet today know that the status quo cannot be maintained, and are therefore joining the software defined revolution.