As a Senior Technical Architect at AHEAD, I often serve as a generalist with my clients leveraging 20+ years of experience in hardware, software, finance, management, and support to find them the best answers. It’s my job to listen, listen some more, then work with my clients to develop solutions that work for their business – all while bringing in the right resources to supplement the discussion.
I am a big believer in converged infrastructure, in part because I’ve personally seen how it has helped many companies achieve IT goals they may have unsuccessfully striven for in a less converged environment.
When evaluating moving to a converged environment, it’s easy to listen to major vendors (like VCE, HDS, and HP) speak to direct benefits using buzzwords like single support, quick provisioning, fast to deploy, and automated updates. But what you don’t usually hear about are the less obvious (but still very important) benefits that many companies are realizing. These “softer” benefits can be harder to measure than things like reducing provisioning time from three weeks to one hour, but are often some of the real reasons why a converged infrastructure succeeds in achieving IT and business goals and clients continue to adopt these types of solutions.
In this post, I cover three of the most important soft benefits of converged infrastructure: unifying IT silos, making IT strategic instead of a cost center, and improving quality of service delivery.
Unifying IT Silos
In many organizations, even mid-sized ones, as the IT needs grow so does the IT staff, because managing all the different components of a non-converged environment simply requires a lot of people. Segmenting people into server teams, network teams, database teams, storage teams, and backup teams is a necessary part of keeping the business running. But when you start to see a larger percentage of an IT budget spent on day-to-day administration rather than projects to help the business develop new lines of revenue, offer new services, or improve operations, these silos create a separate, arguably larger, problem.
These same silos often make it difficult to move to a converged model, in part because of the political environment among teams and the common misperception that converged infrastructure will destabilize jobs. For example, many teams perceive moving to a new infrastructure platform as a threat to their job security or a dilution of their team’s influence within the organization. Others might not recognize the value in moving away from lower level day-to-day tasks through automation provided by a converged solution. The perception is that there will be less work, when on the contrary what actually occurs is that the team moves into performing higher-value, more complex work that helps the business accelerate against its goals. This can cause the team with the most political influence to push their needs over other teams. In order to preserve their position of power and promote job security, other teams might jockey for their favorite server vendor, storage vendor, or specific technology that only they have the skills to manage. All of these factors complicate the task of getting disparate teams to agree to the new model.
The converged model, however, is often a positive catalyst to be able to organize a siloed team. Cross-training becomes the norm and with less resources needed to perform lower level tasks, more meaningful projects can be executed in a new environment that is faster to react to the needs of the business.
Making IT strategic, not a cost center
IT is rarely viewed as strategic to the business or contributing to revenue generation. Organizations often budget IT expense as a percentage of revenue, and when that’s not enough, the IT division works hard to justify additional expense or band-aid critical needs such as storage by shifting funds between projects. A similar scenario occurs when IT is tied to individual project budgets that don’t allow for planning at a macro need level. IT rarely has a positive perception within the business because the user community does not understand the expense, effort, or resources necessary to keep day-to-day operations running.
IT organizations need to evolve from managing day-to-day tasks of feeding and caring for infrastructure to technology innovators that help to develop and enable new business initiatives. This evolution includes expansion into new areas like building a hybrid cloud enablement, data analytics, end-user mobility, and process automation.
Converged infrastructure enables the IT transformation. By reducing lower-level tasks through automation in a converged environment, IT teams can focus more time on business innovation and changing the perception of their organization with their business leadership.
Improving Service Delivery Quality
Managing servers, storage, networks, and their related firmware components is not only time consuming, but the inherent nature of managing these components separately also makes it very difficult to guarantee updating one device won’t impact another. An obvious benefit of a converged environment is that the vendor provides bundled updates on a regular schedule and uses their resources to validate and test the updates to provide the assurance that there won’t be any conflicts. The time spent (thousands of hours in some cases) is often far beyond what any one IT team would do, making it an easy item to measure against as a benefit.
What is often overlooked is what that process achieves for the converged environment. These bundled updates virtually eliminate unplanned downtime, a majority of which is caused by user error. This translates into reducing the maintenance windows required and increasing availability of your environment for business needs. Availability with converged infrastructure often exceeds 99.999%, which equates to a more positive experience for the IT user. When upgrades are needed, there are defined paths to grow a converged environment, which requires less time to plan, order, and implement.
A recent survey of 255 IT decision makers found that there is some awareness of converged infrastructure and its benefits. In fact, forty-six percent of respondents are most interested in virtualization and automation management tools.1 This confirms that IT decision makers will be more likely to choose converged infrastructure solutions as a means to simplify an increasingly complicated, siloed infrastructure. However, over forty percent of survey respondents still have not heard of or considered converged infrastructure.
If you’re one of the forty-six percent who are evaluating a converged environment or if you haven’t started your evaluation process, don’t forget to consider some of the less obvious needs of your business in the decision-making process. These evaluations can make a huge difference in achieving your goals as well as making your IT organization more instrumental in the success of the business.
1. Matthew Eastwood and Jed Scaramella, The Evolution of the Datacenter and the Need for a Converged Infrastructure (IDC, June 2011, sponsored by IBM), 8