Message to IT: Modernize or else

Business management is using the public cloud as a club: If you can't do it, I know a cloud provider who can. Here's how to block that threat

Increasingly, I hear business managers complain that IT just isn't delivering. As a result, more and more, they're going around IT and turning to cloud services, commercial mobile apps, and good old outsourcing to get the job done.

If that doesn't make you swallow hard, it should. Given the economic outlook, no matter what you think your FY12 budget looks like right now, additional investment in IT may be scarce -- unless, perhaps, you can plausibly guarantee IT will be able to deliver at a much higher level. If you can't step it up, more and more of what IT does may fall into the hands of outside providers.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Find out what's the real state of the cloud, circa 2001. | Keep up on the day's tech news with the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]

Here's my quick take on what IT needs to address in order to take things to the next level and provide what the business needs and wants. In the coming months, expect InfoWorld to expand its coverage of these areas.

Get serious about the private cloud

Yes, I hate the cloud nomenclature as much as you do. But virtualization alone is not enough, even though it has been a huge shot in the arm for data center efficiency. For IT in large to midsize companies to achieve qualitatively greater economies of scale, certain workloads must behave like public cloud services.

Together, virtualization, private cloud software, data center automation, and infrastructure convergence represent an opportunity to consolidate compute, storage, and network resources into a shared fabric that scales like crazy, slashes the admin-to-server ratio, supports reconfiguration on the fly -- and offloads some of the gruntwork to stakeholders themselves.

With virtualization as a step one, this is a transformation happening in plain sight: Moving from the old mode of dedicated infrastructure to shared, virtualized resources is a profound and difficult change. Here's a partial list of what you need to make the whole transition.

Create a service catalog. A private cloud requires a top-down view: You work with the business side to determine what the standardized services should be, whether email or a vertical app used across business units, and provision your infrastructure to accommodate those workloads -- which can be administered using advanced virtualization and workload management.

Set up self-service. Stakeholder, provision thyself! For every standard service, let business units click their way through HTML forms to get what they need -- much as they would with a public cloud service. You know how airlines prefer you to make reservations through the website rather than call? You can stave off those phone calls, too, and have the user do the work.

Establish a chargeback system. More accurately, this is typically a "showback" system that reports the costs of resources consumed by stakeholders. While providing this sort of visibility sounds like a nice thing to have, it's actually a necessity. When resources were dedicated to projects, tracking costs was easy. When those resources are shared, it's almost impossible without metering tools. You don't want to spend the rest of your life recalculating infrastructure costs in a spreadsheet.

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