8 steps to building and maintaining an infrastructure road map

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infrastructure you'll make over the next three to five years often takes so long to do correctly that it's completely outdated when you're done.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).

Generally, this window shouldn't be shorter than two years; a plan focusing on a horizon any closer than that isn't likely to be of much value. Similarly, it probably shouldn't be much longer than five years -- it's usually too difficult to imagine where the state of technology or your organizations needs will be beyond that.

Step 2: Build a generalized infrastructure questionnaire

The next thing to do is define a questionnaire that lays out all of the basic requirements to be placed on your infrastructure. At this point, you're not trying to provide answers to these questions -- you're just defining the questions. You also want to be careful not to delve too deeply into specific technologies; you'll get into that nitty-gritty later.

Instead, focus on high-level questions. You'll likely find that many of these questions are entirely nontechnical in nature -- as it should be. Here are some very generalized examples I've seen:

  • What is our year-over-year data growth?
  • What is our year-over-year compute capacity growth?
  • Are we aware of any new applications/initiatives/technologies that are going to be introduced?
  • Does the business have any long-term expansion plans (such as new offices)?
  • What are our uptime/reliability requirements?
  • What are our RTO/RPO (recovery time and recovery point objectives) requirements?
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