A Day of IT Reckoning

By Michael Vizard  |  Posted 2009-02-27

As the recession continues to deepen, it’s becoming clearer that we’re not just experiencing a momentary downturn that will cause us to restrain IT spending for the next fiscal year. Instead, the new economic reality is calling for a permanent reduction in the total cost of enterprise computing.

Therefore, relying on virtualization software to get more out of hardware is not going to be enough. We need to fundamentally rethink our collective approach to enterprise computing.

The good news is that the technologies that will enable IT executives to start that process are at hand. In fact, the first place that IT organizations will see a dramatic transformation is in the hardware used in the data center.

Over the last three decades, the commonly accepted wisdom has been that dedicated hardware was needed for server, storage and network functions. Around those devices, IT customers have been forced to add numerous appliances to handle specific functions, such as security and communications.

But in the last year we’ve begun to see multipurpose servers with enough bandwidth capacity and raw processing horsepower to run multiple types of services on the same system.

For example, Hewlett-Packard and Critical Links have each rolled out servers capable of performing multiple functions, thanks to multicore processors and blade server architectures. Now Cisco Systems intends to leverage similar technologies to create a unified approach to data center computing that integrates server, storage and networking functionality.

These efforts present a real opportunity to not only reduce the amount of hardware required by IT organizations, but also to eliminate the need for separate management applications and to reduce the number of specialists required to run all the devices that make up the data center today.

This, of course, brings us to a second factor driving the transformation of enterprise computing, namely, advances in IT automation software. Just about everywhere, significant advances are being made in terms of integrating server, storage, networking and security management.

This has huge implications in terms of reducing the cost of the software needed to manage the data center’s diverse components and the number of people needed to run them.

Given all these advances, the real question of the day is not which technologies will be used to drive down the total cost of enterprise computing, but rather how long it will take to make the cultural changes that are needed to implement these technologies.

The simple truth is that many of these technological advances threaten the jobs of all kinds of specialists in the IT hierarchy. So, understandably, there is a fair amount of resistance to many of the concepts associated with next-generation integrated servers and IT automation.

In better economic times, companies would be content to let these changes occur at an evolutionary pace. But as it becomes clear that the economy is not likely to recover until well into 2011, business executives are going to demand revolutionary changes to their enterprises. Specifically, they are going to demand that IT consume a lot less of the capital budget and that the cost of labor associated with IT drop substantially.

Unfortunately, the traditional response of IT departments in troubled economic times is to circle the wagons. That means they will embrace technologies like virtualization that allow them to increase utilization rates, but will generally resist new technologies that threaten the status quo in terms of the number of people working in IT.

In years past, IT staffs have been able to slow the adoption of certain automation technologies. However, as the economy continues to worsen, the divide between businesspeople and IT people has the potential to grow even wider—unless IT executives act quickly.

Ultimately, that may require making unpopular decisions about what’s best for the business, rather than what’s popular among the people who work for the IT executives. But a day of IT reckoning is coming. So the question is, Will IT executives lead the way in making necessary changes, or will they be reactionary when confronted with the forces of change? As we all know, reactionary forces rarely survive.