By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2005-02-01 Print this article Print

With 'virtual' infrastructure, will it really be possible to automate your technology operations? And manage them remotely? Not yet. But plan on it.


  • Share infrastructure with competitors

  • Automate deployment processes

  • Get ready for the next five years

    It's 2010. You've consolidated thousands of servers and applications. You can operate your data center from a vacation home in Toulouse, France. Your network heals itself. You pluck computing power from a worldwide grid, as needed. And you just deployed the latest version of MySAP across three manufacturing plants, two distribution centers and six branch offices in two days. All with clicks of your mouse.

    This could be the future. But new technology and standards are needed to allow disparate data centers to communicate, and for open systems to allow computing power to be shared.

    After all, every company's definition of virtual computing will be different.

    Rohm and Haas' Carter says he'd like to buy SAP software licenses based on how many computing cycles he runs the application, instead of a straight license based on the number of users.

    He'd also like to no longer buy hardware. That chore would be offloaded to a services provider. He'd just buy time and power, as he would from an electric utility.

    And in some functions he'd like to share software and hardware with the chemical industry. This could be systems for procuring raw materials and keeping track of shipments, for instance. In such arenas, the advantage comes from how well you negotiate, how cheaply you make things and how well you monitor results—not how data is defined or crunched. And FMC, a rival, could save from using standardized software, operating systems and servers.

    A joint data center "would take a lot of costs out for all of us," Carter says.

    As long as chemical industry rivals couldn't view each other's data, Carter would be fine sharing hardware. Carter acknowledges that security safeguards would be a huge hurdle to overcome (see "Wanted: Chief Espionage Officer," December 2004, p. 32), but expects data from two different companies could be kept on the same server securely.

    So, what's the holdup? Common business practices. Chemical companies have different definitions for raw materials, descriptions of products and financial reporting codes. If these definitions were standard, implementing a new SAP system could take three months instead of three years, Carter says.

    Even if this dream doesn't happen as soon as you'd like, planning for it will help make you more efficient than others that don't plan at all.

    "I'd say you have to keep the plan at five years if only because five-year projects can take 10 years," Patel points out. "If you have 10 years, it may actually take 20. That's way too long for this to happen. You could be lapped."

    Ultimately, it's hard to peg exactly when standards will emerge or new automation technologies get reliable. But if you're not thinking five years ahead, you may not get there at all.


    Sum that a company with 400 servers could save by consolidating 15% of those machines.

    Estimate by Baseline business Information Services. based on software licensing costs of $5,000 per server.


    Sum a company with 400 servers could save annually if it consolidated its four data centers to two.

    Estimate by Baseline business Information Services. based on annual costs of $2.4 million per current data center.


    Sum a company with 7,800 employees could save annually By using Internet protocols to route calls.

    Estimate by Baseline business Information Services. based on domestic company with 16 locations plus one call center.


    Sum a company with 7,800 desktops and 400 servers could save annually if it automated patch management.

    Estimate by Baseline business Information Services.

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    Business Editor
    Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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