The Real Big IT Problem

March 17, 2011 Off By Hoofer
Grazed from IT Business Edge.  Author: Michael Vizard.

It’s usually a lot easier to deal with discrete sets of problems than it is to address the totality of a situation in order to remediate the core issue. Such is the case these days with enterprise IT, where everyone seems to want to talk about cloud computing, virtualization, data storage, mobile computing and application development rather than the core issues that plague IT today.

When you visit most IT organizations today, they are trying to support hundreds of enterprise applications that more often than not are redundant with any number of other applications in their portfolio. Each of those applications is generally running on its own server and usually has some amount of storage allocated to it. IT executives like to talk a lot about IT infrastructure consolidation. But the fact of the matter is that while they may be able to consolidate some servers under a particularly large application, real progress in terms of shrinking the overall size of the IT environment is not going to be made until an effort is made to rationalize the application portfolio.

Unfortunately, IT executives typically don’t own the application portfolio. They support the applications that business leaders typically insist they need. But when you add up all the applications in the enterprise, it’s not all that surprising to discover that for every five to 10 employees, there is one application. Of course, IT leaders, along with the IT vendor community, have been complicit in helping to create this problem because in their minds, their value to the business was tied to the number of applications they supported. At the same time, business leaders complain about the cost of IT in one breath, and then order the IT department to deploy yet another application in the very next breath. And much to everyone’s shock and dismay, we then discover that all these applications are generating copies of the same files everywhere, which in turn leads massive amounts of duplicate data strewn all across underutilized storage systems.

In effect, businesses over the last 20 years have become addicted to IT, and now that they seriously need to cut costs, they have no real idea about how to go about doing it. The end result is a lot of chatter about cloud computing, which in the minds of business leaders is just a less expensive place to throw up some more applications on top of virtual machines that can be spun up in a few minutes. But cloud computing doesn’t really address the fundamental costs of the enterprise IT beyond lowering the cost of the hardware.

Paul D’Arcy, Dell executive director of Americas for public and large enterprise, says that as part of its efforts to make a case for lowering the total cost of IT, Dell suggests that companies start first with an honest assessment of their application portfolio. There’s no doubt that new server platforms such as the Dell Virtual Integrated System (VIS) can lower the cost of IT infrastructure. But those savings are paltry compared to what can be achieved when companies start to rationalize the application portfolio. D’Arcy says that Dell wants to have a conversation with customers that goes well beyond simply consolidating and upgrading servers. The company wants to talk about dramatically lowering the total cost of enterprise IT.

For many IT leaders, however, conversations about rationalizing the applications portfolio are politically untenable given the internal politics of their organizations. In those cases, D’Arcy says IT leaders should start small with a few pilot projects just to get more efficient approaches to managing IT infrastructure in place. Unfortunately, that means it could take years to truly modernize the entire IT environment.

Of course, by definition, those new platforms only deliver their maximum return on investment when they are efficiently running multiple applications. So just maybe, the only applications that should be allowed to run on those platforms are the ones funded by business leaders who are truly willing to play nice with others on the same platform. Otherwise, there should be plenty of legacy hardware around to serve up whatever application they want to run not only slower, but also at a higher cost, on a platform of their very own.

Change is coming to the way enterprise IT is managed. The only thing that isn’t certain is whether it will take place in dribs and drabs over the next decade, or whether it’s because shareholders started asking difficult questions about how it is that relatively unknown startups are using IT much more effectively to drive the valuation of the company through the floor. Chances are the latter is going to be a much bigger issue in the years ahead than most IT leaders really want to admit.