8 steps to building and maintaining an infrastructure road map

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Long-term tech planning can help avoid costly missteps, but it's never easy amid rapid change -- here's one way to get it done

An outside observer might imagine that just about every IT department would have some kind of technology road map. After all, without one, how could you avoid costly mistakes such as overspecifying or underspecifying new infrastructure hardware purchases? But all too often that documentation simply doesn't exist for one very simple reason: How can you possibly build a coherent technology plan in the face of immediate and constant change?

The trouble is that a plan that includes the additions and modifications to your infrastructure you'll make over the next three to five years often takes so long to do correctly that it's completely outdated when you're done. That alone is enough to cause many IT departments to simply give up and resign themselves to a life of reacting solely to immediate needs -- a stressful existence invariably resulting in blown budgets and orphaned hardware that was outgrown far too early in its lifecycle.

It doesn't need to be this way. You can plan for the future in the face of rapid change without all of your work being for naught. Here's an eight-step process for such a task; I've found it works well.

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Step 1: Define the lifecycle of your plan First, define the period of time your technology road map will cover. This varies based on several factors, including how often your organization adopts new technologies and what your long-term budgeting requirements are (or should be).

First, define the period of time your technology road map will cover. This varies based on several factors, including how often your organization adopts new technologies and what your long-term budgeting requirements are (or should be).

When you're done, this list will be fairly extensive. What you're looking for are questions you'd need to answer to allow someone (even a third party) to design a greenfield infrastructure that could shoulder the load and meet the policy requirements your business stakeholders are demanding. If there isn't enough information in your questions to do that, you aren't done yet.

Step 3: Find the answers

Now the fun part: filling out for the first time the questionnaire you created. Answering some of these questions (data growth rates, for example) may require that you implement monitoring tools you don't have in place. Others may require difficult conversations with your business stakeholders to force them to put real numbers on policies such as RTO/RPO.

Step 4: Design a future-state infrastructure

Once you have a completed questionnaire, it's time to design a greenfield infrastructure that would meet the requirements dictated by the answers provided at the endpoint of your planning horizon (be sure to compound the annual growth figures over that period). You want to include everything you think you'd need to meet the requirements at that endpoint -- even if you already own a lot of it.

Step 6: Perform gap analysis

After you've been granted tentative buy-in, it's time to define the gaps between your current infrastructure and the long-term infrastructure design. This step defines what changes you need to make between the current state of your infrastructure and the end of the planning horizon -- answering questions such as:

  • How many more virtualization hosts will I need?
  • How many more switchports will I need to deploy?
  • How much disk capacity do I need to add to my primary storage environment?
  • Can my current storage platform scale to that extent?
  • How much more throughput/storage will my data protection environment require?
  • Will my current data protection environment scale to that extent?

Step 7: Build the road map and start to implement it

After you've defined where your gaps are, you can start to plan when those changes should actually be executed to stay ahead of growth. You can define as projects those that may happen in the current budget cycle, and you can begin choosing specific products and specifications for them.

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