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Data Center & Storage Solutions

New computing world equals the end of shadow IT

The following is a contributed article by Ash Ashutosh, CEO of data virtualization company Actifio

You hear a lot about “shadow IT” these days. The real problem came into focus for me recently when I found myself committed to two big industry events happening at the same time.

The first was AWS Re:Invent, held, appropriately enough, in the land of neon shadows, Las Vegas. To a long time enterprise IT guy, Re:Invent felt like a convention of pirates, malcontents and revolutionaries, all intent on liberating themselves from the tyranny of centralized operations. These people were fighting for their very freedom; to overthrow the corporate overlords getting in the way of whatever they needed to get done. I was surprised by their intensity on the subject, and their willingness to operate outside boundaries intended to be keep data secure.

It occurred to me that a whole generation of IT professionals has grown up with access to everything instantly online. They expect - demand, in fact - nothing less in the workplace. I left for the airport reflecting on the profound implications of this for the old-guard vendors, and the profound opportunities for companies like Actifio.

After a short flight I landed at the Gartner Symposium, nestled among the pastel hues and soothing familiarity of Orlando, Florida. I knew from experience that Gartner Symposium was the CIO’s meeting of CIOs; a golden-gated retreat where the grown-ups gathered to make decisions based on deep thinking and deep pockets, decisions that would shape the flow of information across many of the world’s largest and most powerful organizations. What would I find on the show floor this year, I wondered as my Uber pulled up to the posh but packed hotel?

What became clear almost immediately was that the overlords in Orlando were completely focused on giving the revolutionaries in Vegas exactly what they were asking for - as quickly, cheaply, and safely as they possibly could. The intensity of this pursuit also took me by surprise, just as it had in Vegas.

The debate about the future of IT is over…

We know what’s coming and the debate ended when Dell bought EMC, a sweeping acknowledgement that enterprise hardware even at the high end is now a commodity to be designed, manufactured and sold at the highest possible scale and the lowest possible cost. The spare handful of lonely hardware vendors sulking over their pens and breath mints at both of these shows further demonstrated the point, as if more evidence were required.

This is a profound change for our industry, and it came much more quickly than most imagined. It wasn’t long ago that Wall Street’s gleaming data centers - crammed with color-coded faceplate sculpture, blue logos, and LED underlighting - were the model to which others aspired. Suddenly that approach seems almost naive, and vendors built for a world that no longer exists are scrambling for a way forward. Now the data center architectures at Google, Facebook, and Amazon - places where smart software wrings the maximum performance from commodity components - dictate the fashion. Interoperability within a preferred ecosystem is valued above blistering performance on an island, and the API is the new interface.

Data is the new infrastructure

In this world, applications are the alpha and omega of IT. Applications support the business, and everything else supports the applications at the highest available service level and the lowest available price. You might say data itself is the only infrastructure that matters, and the rest is just plumbing whether it’s in the warm sunlight of centrally anointed operations or the darkest shadows of a credit-card enabled LOB.

Now the challenge is to help the folks in Orlando get back out in front of the transition from the old world to the new, fast enough so the folks in Vegas don’t lose faith. Doing that in today’s application-centric world comes down to managing the flow of data in ways that improve access, reduce sprawl, enhance control, and ensure protection. I’ve seen executive leadership at customers like Accenture, Barclays, and Cardinal Health frame the mission this way, and others would do well to follow their lead.

Data virtualization discourages shadow IT

Virtualizing compute had profound implications for not just the technology, but the organizations who adopted it. Business processes and workflows changed, access to resources improved, and businesses accelerated as more of the people doing the work gained access to the compute power they needed to deliver to the business.

Now it’s time to virtualize the data... not only to save time, cost, and complexity, but to enable the next wave of front-line productivity gains before the people tasked with delivering those gains find a way to do so in ways that make Orlando a more lonely and uncomfortable place to be.

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