As businesses struggle to remain viable, much less grow, cost management is an imperative. Massive data center consolidation, automation and virtualization can drastically reduce costs — reportedly up to a billion dollars annually, in at least one case. However, money isn’t everything: CIOs need to balance what I’ll call the six FACETS of IT: Flexibility, Availability, Cost, Experience, Timeliness and Security.
These goals are often in conflict with each other. For example, consolidation alone can negatively impact availability — by putting all your server and storage eggs into one data center basket. And creating engaging user experiences for interactive applications demands geographic dispersion, the antithesis of consolidation.
A hybrid approach that uses cloud services to complement consolidated enterprise data centers can holistically address these six FACETS:
Flexibility — CIOs constantly face the challenges of new technologies, shifting application mixes, and changing market conditions. Unlike fixed-capacity enterprise data centers, cloud services promise “near-infinite” scalability to meet variable or unpredictable demand. But flexibility is more than scalability, e.g., it might entail the ability to shift resources from voice to video, or change data retention policies. This is where virtualization, converged multiprotocol networks, and cloud platforms can help.
Availability -– Today’s global IT users — customers, employees and partners — demand instant gratification 24/7. High availability of applications and infrastructure benefits from reliable components and from rapid detection, diagnosis and repair processes, but fundamentally is enabled via increased redundancy, which drives up cost. However, the cost of outages usually substantially outweighs the cost of mitigation. Unfortunately, since availability can never exceed 100 percent, there are exponentially diminishing returns on redundancy investments. The good news: Flexible, on-demand cloud resources can be provisioned only in the event of a disaster, reducing the cost of enhanced availability.
Cost — Nick Carr has argued that there will be a “big switch” to pure reliance on pervasive clouds to service enterprise IT needs, in the same way that electric utilities — which are also clouds — meet enterprise power needs. McKinsey & Co. has argued the opposite, complaining that cloud services are too expensive. However, for most businesses, the truth is somewhere in between; whenever demand is variable or unpredictable, total cost can be minimized through a combination of enterprise data centers and cloud resources.
Experience — The user experience has become a key competitive battleground; think how much the success of Google search or Apple’s iPhone owe to usability and responsiveness. Unfortunately, global network latencies are greater than the threshold of human delay perception and reaction times (about 150 ms), so data center consolidation can aggravate response time issues as sites close to end-users are shuttered and interactive applications and functions — SaaS, AJAX, keystroke and mouse move processing via remote virtual desktops, interactive gaming — are moved to more remote sites. Therefore, consolidation of enterprise data centers must be complemented by dispersed cloud-based services such as content and application delivery if the user experience is to be positive.
Timeliness — Accelerating time-to-value to meet ever-shorter product lifecycle windows is more important than ever. Cloud-based applications, infrastructure and platforms-as-services can compress time by replacing ponderous requirements, development, testing and/or provisioning processes with template configuration and agile assembly of component services.
Security — Security, in all its dimensions — authorization, authentication, protection, privacy, compliance, etc. — is as critical, if not more so, than the other FACETS. Cloud services have had occasional issues, but the real question is not whether cloud services are perfectly secure, but whether they are more secure than their enterprise counterparts. Just like banks are more secure than homes — because they must be to remain in business — cloud services either are or will be more secure than enterprise data centers. Security can often be maximized either by leveraging pure cloud services, or by complementing enterprise IT with cloud-based security services such as network-based firewalls, anti-DDoS, cloud-based anti-spam and anti-virus, and web filtering.
The bottom line is that consolidation of enterprise resources must be complemented by scalable, dispersed, secure cloud services in all of the major global regions in which a company does business, with a core of dedicated mirrored resources surrounded by a cloud of content and application delivery and/or WAN acceleration to reduce latency for key applications. An optimal architecture is hybrid: dedicated and shared, fixed and flexible, consolidated and dispersed, and owned and rented. Maintaining this balance is the best way to address the many FACETS of IT.
Joe Weinman is Strategy and Business Development VP for AT&T Business Solutions.