Business Management

Cynthia Stoddard (Global) - The New Opportunity in IT: Agility

An Agile Data Infrastructure Is the Secret to Staying Ahead in an Unpredictable and Competitive Business Reality

Businesses have long had the goal of responding quickly and effectively to rapidly evolving marketplace conditions and constantly shifting customer demands. All the more so in a 24/7 global economy, where data -- many terabytes worth -- is easy to come by but difficult to make sense of, much less to turn into the propellant for change that it must be for business advantage today.

In fact the challenges that IT departments face - not just the growth in data but also the increasing number of business-critical applications requiring support, the proliferation of mobile devices, and tight budgets - are rapidly converging on an inflection point. Once this inflection point is reached, one of two things will inevitably happen: IT will devolve into a sinkhole for corporate resources, a drag that never earns its keep; or in the happier ending, IT will fulfill its potential to become the propellant for change. That's why forward-looking CIOs are realizing that the only way to accelerate business is to fundamentally rethink their approach to information technology. Specifically, they need to realign their IT practices and philosophies around the idea of agility.

What exactly does that mean? For starters, agility gives businesses the ability to respond and adapt quickly to the needs of customers and partners; but attaining that goal means that CIOs need to make critical decisions about their IT infrastructure that enable, not disable, their business, not later, but now. Going forward, software and systems development needs to operate quickly, working closely and iteratively with all of an organization's stakeholders.

However, that can happen only by remaking IT systems, using agility as a design principle. In fact, only by embracing agility will IT organizations be able to deliver on the promise inherent in such crucial contemporary ideas as virtualization and cloud computing. Agility also allows IT administrators to take cost and complexity out of their systems, a crucial differentiator in a time of economic uncertainty when IT departments and budgets are under steadily increasing pressure.

What exactly does agile IT entail? One of the most pressing needs for agility is in the crucial area of data storage, an area that is central to today's data-driven world. Agility in storage means combining flexible storage systems with rich data management software. New storage capabilities must be able to be brought online quickly and scaled over time without affecting the uptime of the rest of the IT ecosystem.

With agile data storage, performance and capacity can be scaled by pooling together multiple systems of different sizes, instead of imprisoning data in a few large, monolithic systems. The resulting storage pool can be optimized to support many different kinds of data workloads, from capacity-intensive content repositories to performance-intensive mission-critical transactional databases. Components can be swapped in and out, and additional resources can be added, all while maintaining the stability and predictability of services. IT's future involves taking this "shared approach," and doing away with the "rip and replace" attitudes and dramatic changes of years past.

These sorts of non-disruptive operations and continuous data access are made possible by creating a layer of insulation between the application and the underlying data storage hardware. This gives IT administrators the opportunity to perform rolling upgrades, even when performing a complete hardware refresh. Scheduled downtime - the bane of any operation that seeks to run 24/7 - becomes a thing of the past.

Agility needs something else to be an enterprise reality - the entire storage pool must be able to be managed as a single system, with data protection, automation, and other features built in from the ground up. This all might seem theoretical, but real companies have had success by rethinking their approach to IT and managing their data storage with more agility in mind.

  • Last year, Japan was devastated by the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. For SOFTBANK Group, the crisis was a turning point. Knowing that its public cloud services could immediately fulfill the needs of companies in the disaster area, the company pushed to complete a rollout in just one year instead of two. SOFTBANK was able to shorten the time to create 1,000 desktop units from one week to one day, giving it the confidence and scalability to offer its White Could services to the public within three days of the disaster, and add 14,000 virtual desktops internally in a matter of weeks. In fact, the company now supports more than 22,000 virtual desktops - one of the largest use cases in the world.
  • Every day, BBM Canada uses electronic measuring systems to capture data from tens of thousands of households. Data is analyzed overnight with next-day delivery to more than 1,000 members in more than 100 radio and television markets. Because it's used to determine the value of advertising time, the ratings data serves as BBM Canada's currency; they simply cannot lose data or the ability to collect and process it. In seven years, they have never missed an opportunity to process data.

CIOs want to accelerate their business with greater efficiency and productivity, but they must think differently to remove the complexity, cost, and inefficiencies of decade-old IT approaches. Agility in IT is not a buzzword; it is truly an opportunity for CIOs to deliver business impact and change the trajectory of IT services in their organizations today.

By Cynthia Stoddard CIO, NetApp



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