Are We Looking at Convergence All Wrong? Part 3

Converged and Hyper-Converged Infrastructure. They could be opening up a new world that connects IT with the business, yet we’re focused on paying off technical debt.

Convergence is a trend that will disrupt how IT teams function. There is no one product that will solve your problems. However, by focusing on how to shift people, processes, and technology in the face of this disruptive trend, IT can become an asset to the business once again.

First, we talked about convergence as a trend. Last time, we talked about how converged infrastructure products are thinking too small.

This time, we’re going to talk about using convergence to connect information to the business.

Warning: this post will offer no pre-packaged solutions that will automagically solve your problems. IT organizations and companies like EMC have to collaborate to enable the changes in people’s skills and focus, organizational processes, and technology to get the real value out of convergence. Yes, I am no fun at parties.

Where Did We Go Wrong?

Converged infrastructure should enable businesses to connect their applications to their information without barriers, delays, or excessive cost. If you go to any business unit today, you’ll find innovative developers and business leaders stifled by their inability to get the resources necessary to implement their plans. Key data sits on IT resources, and the teams cannot get at their own data. IT cannot provide the appropriate services at a reasonable cost. As a result, they wall off access to the data, for fear that their teams will leverage the cloud and eliminate them. Of course, that’s exactly what their teams are trying to do right now.

Converging IT and the Business

IT must converge information access with business applications.

What value does IT bring to the table in a converged world? Information. IT controls most of the company’s information. By safely exposing that information to the business users, IT can move from “roadblock” to “enabler”.  This means enabling the business users to find the right version of the information they need, with the right service level, available on their compute platform of choice.

What does the business need? Support for their business applications – infrastructure and information.

Copy Data Management

To converge information access, IT infrastructure must solve the broad “Copy Data Management” challenge. This includes: distributed production access, collaborative access, operational recovery, disaster recovery, archive retrieval, and test & development. Moreover, access needs to be secure and efficient, so IT has to deliver: data scrubbing (e.g. cleaning out private information before sharing), optimized data movement (deduplication, compression, WAN acceleration, caching, etc.), search (by metadata or content), and heterogeneity (not tied to a given data format on-premises or in the cloud). It also has to apply to “legacy” as well as “new” information.

The Copy Data Management focus needs to be on business acceleration, not reducing cost. We have spent so long working on technical debt that we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to enable growth. The first challenge, then, is changing the IT responses to business requests. These responses include: “Not unless we get massive new budget”” or “Unless you use an end-to-end IT solution, we can’t help you. (i.e. We can’t have you using cloud providers)” or “We need to organize a governance committee to evaluate this”. The second challenge is in finding technical solutions to solve the problem. “Short term” convergence delivers one-off solutions that optimize only a subset of the workflow, and data lakes often end up isolated from the rest of the infrastructure (and, yes, isolated from reality). In other words, IT leaders need to stop saying “no” as well as avoiding the pitfall of the “easy” technical solution that promises pain-free transformation.

IT’s Copy Data Management solution should: integrate into their existing environment, support new environments, and optimize flows for data, metadata, and management. I don’t believe there is a single product that can achieve these goals today (despite what anybody, including EMC, promises you). I also don’t believe that there are many IT organizations structured to deliver such a solution. Both products and IT organizations are built for silos. Therefore, the question for the IT team is – who do you trust as a technology partner to work with you on your journey to truly solve Copy Data Management?

Business Applications

To maximize the value of the information they’re managing, infrastructure teams must understand their business’s applications. Most companies do not know the relationship between different components of their application, much less how the application components connect to the infrastructure. A customer spent three months of broadcasting that he was decommissioning a server. Nobody objected. In fact, all parties asserted that it was a useless server. Of course, the day he shut the server down, the company website went offline! Another CIO spent three years classifying and understanding the interactions of his business applications, only to discover that the information was out-of-date before he could do anything with it. He then discovered he needed to find a new job.

If IT cannot understand the relationship between the business application and the production infrastructure, what hope do they have for the other copies? This lack of understanding leads companies to “replicate everything”, “archive everything forever”, or assert that subsets of the application are protected and pretend that it’s sufficient. Unfortunately, these approaches do not bring IT closer to the business; they just reinforce the wall between them.

Virtualization has made the sprawl worse. As “glue” VMs sprout up all over the place, one customer complained that they have not had a successful weekly DR test in 50 consecutive weeks. They never know what they need to replicate! Of course, at one point, we thought that virtualization might help IT gain insight into the business applications. The VMware vApp was going to provide the information that connected different parts of an application, so we could understand the business application. This has not come to fruition. Instead, server virtualization has led to more entropy between the business application and IT infrastructure.

The next inflection point is upon us: containerized, micro-service based applications. Regardless of your preferred containers and container management systems, applications and data are about to become even more dispersed. On the other hand, as these tools roll out, we have another opportunity to work with the business and technology tools to leave enough bread crumbs for IT to understand the components that comprise an application. The time, however, is now, before “just do it” processes become de facto standards.

By beginning the journey to understand the business applications now, IT will be prepared to handle containerized, virtualized, hybrid-cloud applications. As with Copy Data Management, there is no tool that will solve the challenge of mapping business applications to the infrastructure. This, too, will be more of a people and process change than a technical change (disruptive technical change always disrupts people and process more than anything). However, by finding the right technology partner, IT organizations can begin to better understand their business.

Conclusion

More than any other technical trend, convergence can reshape IT. Convergence will either drive businesses completely to the cloud, where they’ll trade service levels for agility, or it will reinvigorate on-premises IT for the next decade (where they’ll leverage cloud as an asset). Incremental steps to reduce technical debt are fine, but IT will only survive and thrive if it can become a business enabler, rather than a cost center.

IT’s core value comes from its management of the company’s information. The business wants that information available to its applications. By changing their people’s skill sets and focus, processes, and technology, IT can deliver Copy Data Management that drives the business applications – wherever they run. That journey has to start now.

Next time, we’ll talk about how convergence is more than just packaging – it can change the way people consume IT assets.

IT must converge information access with business applications.

Stephen Manley @makitadremel

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