Where some see stasis, those of us of a certain age tend to see slow-swinging pendulums. Where some perceive exciting ideas as brand new, others perceive in them shades of the past.
Virtualization, service-oriented architectures, and SANs are, in key ways, efforts to restore capabilities lost in the move away from centralized, opaque mainframe-style computing toward distributed models, which emphasize budgeting and assigning assets to specific tasks or groups of users. Although timesharing and batch processing are lousy models for business computing, they hold lessons that companies moving toward more dynamic, on-demand models should absorb.
The lesson, in brief, is this: Nobody can be allowed to own anything. I’m not channeling John Lennon, but expressing a rarely discussed barrier to the fine-grained, continuously adaptable allocation of computing, storage, and networking resources that will take us to the next stage of business computing. At present, except where a genuine datacenter is in place, computers, hard drives, and network segments have task identities and assigned (or tacit) ownership.
Individual ownership sprang from the rise of the personal computer — among the best and worst inventions for business computing.
Terminals that had been mere tools gave way to stand-alone boxes, which users guarded fiercely as their personal property. Nobody ever used to walk up to a mainframe administrator and said, “What are you doing on my computer?”
User attachment to personal computers can be a menacing problem, but breaking those bonds would create new cultural problems. It’s a lost cause.
What really costs us today is the fiercely defended pseudo-ownership of computing assets. I had expected a distributed workforce to dismantle this false send of ownership, but battles over IT resource allocation slog on as if nothing had changed. “You’re taking away two of my group’s servers? You want me to turn over half of my disk space on the SAN? Over my dead body!” If your culture doesn’t allow the physical relocation of a box, you will never be able to take a box away and put it into a pool that everyone shares.
Who in your organization believes that IT’s resources are finite? They are, or at least should be in most cases. As infamously expensive as mainframes were and are, I’d wager that you grossly overspend by comparison to keep up with the demands of users and workgroups.
Service-oriented architectures, SANs, virtualization, partitioning, adaptive monitoring and management, and other strategies meant to erase physical and logical boundaries have presented IT with a unique opportunity to curtail the counterproductive and expensive culture of ownership.
A dynamic enterprise is a single, shared system no matter how much space it occupies and how many boxes are involved.
If you’re a long way from implementing a dynamic strategy, shake cultural attachments to assets by consolidating servers across workgroups. Swap or relocate some servers so that the bonds of familiarity are broken. If you don’t, you’ll be disappointed later, when you discover that you can’t get user buy-in on your state-of-the-art dynamic enterprise strategy.