The Trouble with IT Disintermediation

Disintermediation by Pacific-Tier CommunicationsI have a client who is concerned with some of their departments bypassing the organization’s traditional IT process, and going directly to cloud vendors for their IT resource needs.  Not really unique, as the cloud computing industry has really disrupted IT provisioning processes, not to mention near complete loss of control over configuration management databases and inventories.

IT service disintermediation occurs when end users cut out the middleman when procuring ICT services, and go directly to the service provider with an independent account. Disintermediation normally occurs when one of the following conditions exist:

  1. The end user desires to remain independent, for reasons of control, use of decentralized budgets, or simply individual pride.
  2. The organizational service provider does not have a suitable resource available to meet the end user’s needs
  3. The end user does not have confidence in the organizational service provider
  4. The organizational service provider has a suitable service, however is not able or willing to provision the service in order to meet the end user’s demands for timing, capacity, or other reasons.  This is often the result of a lengthy, bureaucratic process which is not agile, flexible, or promotes a “sense of urgency” to complete provisioning tasks.
  5. The organizational service provider is not able to, or is unwilling to accommodate “special” orders which fall out of the service provider’s portfolio.
  6. The organizational service provider does not respond to rapidly changing market, technology, and usage opportunities, with the result of creating barriers for the business units to compete or respond to external conditions.

The result of this is pretty bad for any organization.  Some of the highlights of this failure may include:

  • Loss of control over IT budgets – decentralization of IT budget which do not fall within a strategic plan or policy cannot be controlled.
  • Inability to develop and maintain organizational relationships with select or approved vendors.  Vendors relish the potential of disrupting single points of contacts within large organizations, as it allows them to develop and sustain multiple high value contracts with the individual agencies, rather than falling within volume purchasing agreements, audits, standards, security, SLAs, training, and so on.
  • Individual applications will normally result in incompatible information silos.  While interoperability within an organization is a high priority, particularly when looking at service-orientation and organizational decision support systems, systems disintermediation will result in failure, or extreme difficulty in developing data sharing structure.
  • Poor Continuity of Operations and Disaster Management.  Undocumented, non-standard systems are normally not fully documented, and often are not made available to the Organization’s IT Management or support operations.  Thus, when disasters occur, there is a high risk of complete data loss in a disaster, or inability to quickly restore full services to the organization, customers, and general user base.
  • There is also difficulty in data/systems portability.  If/when a service provider fails to meet the expectation of the end user, decides to go out of business, or for some reason decides not to continue supporting the user, then the existing data and systems should be portable to another service provider (this is also within the NIST standard).

While there are certainly other considerations, this covers the main pain points disintermediation might present.

The next obvious question is how to best mitigate the condition.  This is a more difficult issue than in the past, as it is now so easy to establish an account and resources through cloud companies with a simple credit card, or aggressive sales person.In addition, the organizational service provider must follow standard architectural and governance processes, which includes continual review and improvement cycles.

As technology and organization priorities change, so must the policies change to be aware of, and accommodate reasonable change.  The end users must be fully aware of the products and services IT departments have to offer, and of course IT departments must have an aggressive sense of urgency in trying to respond and fulfill those requirements.

Responsibility falls in two areas; 1) Ensuring the organizational service provider is able to meet the needs of end users <or is able to find solutions in a timely manner to assist the end user>, and 2)  develop policies and processes which not only facilitate end user acquisition of resources, but also establishes accountability when those policies are not followed.

In addition, the organizational service provider must follow standard architectural and governance processes, which includes continual review and improvement cycles. As technology and organization priorities change, so must the policies change to be aware of, and accommodate reasonable change. The end users must be fully aware of the products and services IT departments have to offer, and of course IT departments must have an aggressive sense of urgency in trying to respond and fulfill those requirements.

You Want Money for a Data Center Buildout?

Yield to Cloud A couple years ago I attended several “fast pitch” competitions and events for entrepreneurs in Southern California, all designed to give startups a chance to “pitch” their ideas in about 60 seconds to a panel of representatives from the local investment community.  Similar to television’s “Shark Tank,” most of the ideas pitches were harshly critiqued, with the real intent of assisting participating entrepreneurs in developing a better story for approaching investors and markets.

While very few of the pitches received a strong, positive response, I recall one young guy who really set the panel back a step in awe.  The product was related to biotech, and the panel provided a very strong, positive response to the pitch.

Wishing to dig a bit deeper, one of the panel members asked the guy how much money he was looking for in an investment, and how he’d use the money.

“$5 million he responded,” with a resounding wave of nods from the panel.  “I’d use around $3 million for staffing, getting the office started, and product development.”  Another round of positive expressions.  “And then we’d spend around $2 million setting up in a data center with servers, telecoms, and storage systems.”

This time the panel looked as if they’d just taken a crisp slap to the face.  After a moment of collection, the panel spokesman launched into a dress down of the entrepreneur stating “I really like the product, and think you vision is solid.  However, with a greater then 95% chance of your company going bust within the first year, I have no desire to be stuck with $2 million worth of obsolete computer hardware, and potentially contract liabilities once you shut down your data center.  You’ve got to use your head and look at going to Amazon for your data center capacity and forget this data center idea.”

Now it was the entire audience’s turn to take a pause.

In the past IT managers really placed buying and controlling their own hardware, in their own facility, as a high priority – with no room for compromise.  For perceptions of security, a desire for personal control, or simply a concern that outsourcing would limit their own career potential, sever closets and small data centers were a common characteristic of most small offices.

At some point a need to have proximity to Internet or communication exchange points, or simple limitations on local facility capacity started forcing a migration of enterprise data centers into commercial colocation.  For the most part, IT managers still owned and controlled any hardware outsourced into the colocation facility, and most agreed that in general colocation facilities offered higher uptime, fewer service disruptions, and good performance, in particular for eCommerce sites.

Now we are at a new IT architecture crossroads.  Is there really any good reason for a startup, medium, or even large enterprise to continue operating their own data center, or even their own hardware within a colocation facility?  Certainly if the average CFO or business unit manager had their choice, the local data center would be decommissioned and shut down as quickly as possible.  The CAPEX investment, carrying hardware on the books for years of depreciation, lack of business agility, and dangers of business continuity and disaster recovery costs force the question of “why don’t we just rent IT capacity from a cloud service provider?”

Many still question the security of public clouds, many still question the compliance issues related to outsourcing, and many still simply do not want to give up their “soon-to-be-redundant” data center jobs.

Of course it is clear most large cloud computing companies have much better resources available to manage security than a small company, and have made great advances in compliance certifications (mostly due to the US government acknowledging the role of cloud computing and changing regulations to accommodate those changes).  If we look at the US Government’s FedRAMP certification program as an example, security, compliance, and management controls are now a standard – open for all organizations to study and adopt as appropriate.

So we get back to the original question, what would justify a company in continuing to develop data centers, when a virtual data center (as the first small step in adopting a cloud computing architecture) will provide better flexibility, agility, security, performance, and lower cost than operating a local of colocated IT physical infrastructure?  Sure, exceptions exist, including some specialized interfaces on hardware to support mining, health care, or other very specialized activities.  However if you re not in the computer or switch manufacturing business – can you really continue justifying CAPEX expenditures on IT?

IT is quickly becoming a utility.  As a business we do not plan to build roads, build water distribution, or build our own power generation plants.  Compute, telecom, and storage resources are becoming a utility, and IT managers (and data center / colocation companies) need to do a comprehensive review of their business and strategy, and find a way to exploit this technology reality, rather than allow it to pass us by.

Business Drives Transition to IT as a Utility

Is there a point where business can safely assume they have hit the limit of what traditional IT organizations have to offer?  In an Internet and data driven world, does IT simply lack the agility and depth needed to fulfill business requirements and need for innovation?

Parts of cloud computing have chimed a loud and painful wake up call for many IT managers.  Even at the most simple level, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), it might be fair to say this is simply a utility to accelerate data center imagedecommissioning, and the process of physically decoupling underlying compute, storage, and network infrastructure from the business.

Due to a lack of PaaS and SaaS interface and building block standards, we still have a long ways to go before we can effectively call either utilities, or truly serve the needs of interoperability and systems integration.

Of course this idea is not new.  Negroponte kicked off the idea in his great view of the future in the “Big Switch,” with a lot of great analogies about compute, network, and storage capacity as a modern day adaptation of the electrical grid.

We like to look at the analogy of roads (won’t look at water today, but the analogy still applies).  Roads are built using standards.  In the US the Department of Transportation establishes the need, and construction standards for Interstate Highways, and US highways.  The states establish standards and requirements for state roads, and county / local governments establish standards for everything else.

The roads are standard.  We know what to expect when driving on an Interstate Highway.  Whether it be bridge height, lane sizing, on / off ramps, or even rest stops – it is hard to be surprised when driving the Interstate Highway system.

However the highway system does not unnecessarily inhibit development of vehicles which use the highways – there are hundreds of different makes, models, and sizes of vehicles on the road, and all use the same basic infrastructure.

Getting back to cloud computing, to make our IaaS a true utility, we need to ensure interoperability and portability within the IaaS underlying technologies, and allow for true on-demand portability of the physical infrastructure, management systems, provisioning systems, and billing systems.  Just like with the electrical grid.  And standards much like the highway system, with the flexibility to support predictable, innovative ideas.

Once we have removed the burden of underlying physical IT infrastructure from our planning model, we can focus our energy on higher levels of utility, including PaaS and SaaS.

Enterprise Architecture frameworks, such as TOGAF, promote the use of Architecture Building Blocks (ABB) and Solution Building Blocks (SBB).  Where ABBs may define global, industry, and local standards, SBBs provide definition for solutions which are specific to a project, and do not normally have either standards or other reusable components to draw from.  However, development of SBBs should still acknowledge and have a design which will support either an existing  standard, or broader development of new standard interfaces in the future.

This includes the most important component of open, standard, and reusable interfaces (APIs) which support service-orientation, interoperability, and portability of data.  Which may also be considered characteristics of the future PaaS and SaaS utilities.  Or in more simple terms, edging closer to the death of proprietary data or physical interfaces and functionality.

Now a reminder – at this level we are still striving to create utilities which will ultimately reduce or eliminate our need for specialized IT.  Yes, there are exceptions where specific equipment interfaces are unique to a technology, such as rock crushers in the mining industry.  However, for example, we are still able to conduct agile business on a global scale with all our customers, competitors, suppliers, and vendors all using compatible email.

That is the objective, to make the underlying infrastructure, including much of PaaS and SaaS, standard, and serve he needs of business innovation, without the danger of being inhibited by proprietary and non-standard or compatible interfaces.

Build a business on innovative ideas, create competitive or unique selling points and products, focus energy on developing those innovations, and relieve yourselves of the burden resulting from carrying excessive and unproductive IT infrastructure below the business.

And then IT is a utility

Focusing on Cloud Portability and Interoperability

Cloud Computing has helped us understand both the opportunity, and the need, to decouple physical IT infrastructure from the requirements of business.  In theory cloud computing greatly enhances an organization’s ability to not only decommission inefficient data center resources, but even more importantly eases the process an organization needs to develop when moving to integration and service-orientation within supporting IT systems.

Current cloud computing standards, such as published by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have provided very good definitions, and solid reference architecture for understanding at a high level a vision of cloud computing.

image However these definitions, while good for addressing the vision of cloud computing, are not at a level of detail needed to really understand the potential impact of cloud computing within an existing organization, nor the potential of enabling data and systems resources to meet a need for interoperability of data in a 2020 or 2025 IT world.

The key to interoperability, and subsequent portability, is a clear set of standards.  The Internet emerged as a collaboration of academic, government, and private industry development which bypassed much of the normal technology vendor desire to create a proprietary product or service.  The cloud computing world, while having deep roots in mainframe computing, time-sharing, grid computing, and other web hosting services, was really thrust upon the IT community with little fanfare in the mid-2000s.

While NIST, the Open GRID Forum, OASIS, DMTF, and other organizations have developed some levels of standardization for virtualization and portability, the reality is applications, platforms, and infrastructure are still largely tightly coupled, restricting the ease most developers would need to accelerate higher levels of integration and interconnections of data and applications.

NIST’s Cloud Computing Standards Roadmap (SP 500-291 v2) states:

…the migration to cloud computing should enable various multiple cloud platforms seamless access between and among various cloud services, to optimize the cloud consumer expectations and experience.

Cloud interoperability allows seamless exchange and use of data and services among various cloud infrastructure offerings and to the the data and services exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together.”

Very easy to say, however the reality is, in particular with PaaS and SaaS libraries and services, that few fully interchangeable components exist, and any information sharing is a compromise in flexibility.

The Open Group, in their document “Cloud Computing Portability and Interoperability” simplifies the problem into a single statement:

“The cheaper and easier it is to integrate applications and systems, the closer you are getting to real interoperability.”

The alternative is of course an IT world that is restrained by proprietary interfaces, extending the pitfalls and dangers of vendor lock-in.

What Can We Do?

The first thing is, the cloud consumer world must make a stand and demand vendors produce services and applications based on interoperability and data portability standards.  No IT organization in the current IT maturity continuum should be procuring systems that do not support an open, industry-standard, service-oriented infrastructure, platform, and applications reference model (Open Group).

In addition to the need for interoperable data and services, the concept of portability is essential to developing, operating, and maintaining effective disaster management and continuity of operations procedures.  No IT infrastructure, platform, or application should be considered which does not allow and embrace portability.  This includes NIST’s guidance stating:

“Cloud portability allows two or more kinds of cloud infrastructures to seamlessly use data and services from one cloud system and be used for other cloud systems.”

The bottom line for all CIOs, CTOs, and IT managers – accept the need for service-orientation within all existing or planned IT services and systems.  Embrace Service-Oriented Architectures, Enterprise Architecture, and at all costs the potential for vendor lock-in when considering any level of infrastructure or service.

Standards are the key to portability and interoperability, and IT organizations have the power to continue forcing adoption and compliance with standards by all vendors.  Do not accept anything which does not fully support the need for data interoperability.

Nurturing the Marriage of Cloud Computing and SOAs

In 2009 we began consulting jobs with governments in developing countries with the primary objective to consolidate data centers across government ministries and agencies into centralized, high capacity and quality data centers.  At the time, nearly all individual ministry or agency data infrastructure was built into either small computers rooms or server closets with some added “brute force” air conditioning, no backup generators, no data back up, superficial security, and lots of other ailments.

CC-SOA The vision and strategy was that if we consolidated inefficient, end of life, and high risk IT infrastructure into a standardized and professionally managed facility, national information infrastructure would not only be more secure, but through standardization, volume purchasing agreements, some server virtualization, and development of broadband infrastructure most of the IT needs of government would be easily fulfilled.

Then of course cloud computing began to mature, and the underlying technologies of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) became feasible.  Now, not only were the governments able to decommission inefficient and high-risk IS environments, they would also be able to build virtual data centers  with levels of on-demand compute, storage, and network resources.  Basic data center replacement.

Even those remaining committed “server hugger” IT managers and fiercely independent governmental organizations cloud hardly argue the benefits of having access to disaster recovery storage capacity though the centralized data center.

As the years passed, and we entered 2014, not only did cloud computing mature as a business model, but senior management began to increase their awareness of various aspects of cloud computing, including the financial benefits, standardization of IT resources, the characteristics of cloud computing, and potential for Platform and Software as a Service (PaaS/SaaS) to improve both business agility and internal decision support systems.

At the same time, information and organizational architecture, governance, and service delivery frameworks such as TOGAF, COBIT, ITIL, and Risk Analysis training reinforced the value of both data and information within an organization, and the need for IT systems to support higher level architectures supporting decision support systems and market interactions (including Government to Government, Business, and Citizens for the public sector) .

2015 will bring cloud computing and architecture together at levels just becoming comprehensible to much of the business and IT world.  The open Group has a good first stab at building a standard for this marriage with their Service-Oriented Cloud Computing Infrastructure (SOCCI). According to the SOCCI standard,

“Infrastructure is a foundational element for enterprise architecture. Infrastructure has been  traditionally provisioned in a physical manner. With the evolution of virtualization technologies  and application of service-orientation to infrastructure, it can now be offered as a service.

Service-orientation principles originated in the business and application architecture arena. After  repeated, successful application of these principles to application architecture, IT has evolved to  extending these principles to the infrastructure.”

At first glance the SOCII standard appears to be a document which creates a mapping between enterprise architecture (TOGAF) and cloud computing.  At second glance the SOCCI standard really steps towards tightening the loose coupling of standard service-oriented architectures through use of cloud computing tools included with all service models (IaaS/PaaS/SaaS).

The result is an architectural vision which is easily capable of absorbing existing IT requirements, as well as incorporating emerging big data analytics models, interoperability, and enterprise architecture.

Since the early days of 2009 discussion topics with government and enterprise customers have shown a marked transition from simply justifying decommissioning of high risk data centers to how to manage data sharing, interoperability, or the potential for over standardization and other service delivery barriers which might inhibit innovation – or ability of business units to quickly respond to rapidly changing market opportunities.

2015 will be an exciting year for information and communications technologies.  For those of us in the consulting and training business, the new year is already shaping up to be the busiest we have seen.

It is Time to Get Serious about Architecting ICT

Just finished another ICT-related technical assistance visit with a developing country government. Even in mid-2014, I spend a large amount of time teaching basic principles of enterprise architecture, and the need for adding form and structure to ICT strategies.

Service-oriented architectures (SOA) have been around for quite a long time, with some references going back to the 1980s. ITIL, COBIT, TOGAF, and other ICT standards or recommendations have been around for quite a long time as well, with training and certifications part of nearly every professional development program.

So why is the idea of architecting ICT infrastructure still an abstract to so many in government and even private industry? It cannot be the lack of training opportunities, or publicly available reference materials. It cannot be the lack of technology, or the lack of consultants readily willing to assist in deploying EA, SOA, or interoperability within any organization or industry cluster.

During the past two years we have run several Interoperability Readiness Assessments within governments. The assessment initially takes the form of a survey, and is distributed to a sample of 100 or more participants, with positions ranging from administrative task-based workers, to Cxx or senior leaders within ministries and government agencies.

Questions range from basic ICT knowledge to data sharing, security, and decision support systems.

While the idea of information silos is well-documented and understood, it is still quite surprising to see “siloed” attitudes are still prevalent in modern organizations.  Take the following question:

Question on Information Sharing

This question did not refer to sharing data outside of the government, but rather within the government.  It indicates a high lack of trust when interacting with other government agencies, which will of course prevent any chance of developing a SOA or facilitating information sharing among other agencies.  The end result is a lower level of both integrity and value in national decision support capability.

The Impact of Technology and Standardization

Most governments are considering or implementing data center consolidation initiatives.  There are several good reasons for this, including:

  • Cost of real estate, power, staffing, maintenance, and support systems
  • Transition from CAPEX-based ICT infrastructure to OPEX-based
  • Potential for virtualization of server and storage resources
  • Standardized cloud computing resources

While all those justifications for data center consolidation are valid, the value potentially pales in comparison of the potential of more intelligent use of data across organizations, and even externally to outside agencies.  To get to this point, one senior government official stated:

“Government staff are not necessarily the most technically proficient.  This results in reliance on vendors for support, thought leadership, and in some cases contractual commitments.  Formal project management training and certification are typically not part of the capacity building of government employees.

Scientific approaches to project management, especially ones that lend themselves to institutionalization and adoption across different agencies will ensure a more time-bound and intelligent implementation of projects. Subsequently, overall knowledge and technical capabilities are low in government departments and agencies, and when employees do gain technical proficiency they will leave to join private industry.”

There is also an issue with a variety of international organizations going into developing countries or developing economies, and offering no or low cost single-use ICT infrastructure, such as for health-related agencies, which are not compatible with any other government owned or operated applications or data sets.

And of course the more this occurs, the more difficult it is for government organizations to enable interoperability or data sharing, and thus the idea of an architecture or data sharing become either impossible or extremely difficult to implement or accomplish.

The Road to EA, SOAs, and Decision Support

There are several actions to take on the road to meeting our ICT objectives.

  1. Include EA, service delivery (ITIL), governance (COBIT), and SOA training in all university and professional ICT education programs.  It is not all about writing code or configuring switches, we need to ensure a holistic understanding of ICT value in all ICT education, producing a higher level of qualified graduates entering the work force.
  2. Ensure government and private organizations develop or adopt standards or regulations which drive enterprise architecture, information exchange models, and SOAs as a basic requirement of ICT planning and operations.
  3. Ensure executive awareness and support, preferably through a formal position such as the Chief Information Officer (CIO).  Principles developed and published via the CIO must be adopted and governed by all organizations,
    Nobody expects large organizations, in particular government organizations, to change their cultures of information independence overnight.  This is a long term evolution as the world continues to better understand the value and extent of value within existing data sets, and begin creating new categories of data.  Big data, data analytics, and exploitation of both structured and unstructured data will empower those who are prepared, and leave those who are not prepared far behind.
    For a government, not having the ability to access, identify, share, analyze, and address data created across agencies will inhibit effective decision support, with potential impact on disaster response, security, economic growth, and overall national quality of life.
    If there is a call to action in this message, it is for governments to take a close look at how their national ICT policies, strategies, human capacity, and operations are meeting national objectives.  Prioritizing use of EA and supporting frameworks or standards will provide better guidance across government, and all steps taken within the framework will add value to the overall ICT capability.

Pacific-Tier Communications LLC provides consulting to governments and commercial organizations on topics related to data center consolidation, enterprise architecture, risk management, and cloud computing.

The Value of Cloud Computing Certifications

A good indication any new technology or business model is starting to mature is the number of certifications popping up related to that product, framework, or service.   Cloud computing is certainly no exception, with vendors such as Microsoft, Google, VMWare, and IBM offering Cloud Computing Certificationscertification training for their own products, as well as organizations such CompTIA and Architura competing for industry neutral certifications.

Is this all hype, or is it an essential part of the emerging cloud computing ecosystem?  Can we remember the days when entry level Cisco, Microsoft, or other vendor certifications were almost mocked by industry elitists?

Much like the early Internet days of eEverything, cloud computing is at the point where most have heard the term, few understand the concepts, and marketing folk are exploiting every possible combination of the words to place their products in a favorable, forward leaning light.

So, what if executive management takes a basic course in cloud computing principles, or sales and customer service people take a Cloud 101 course?  Is that bad?

Of course not.  Cloud computing has the potential of being transformational to business, governments, organization, and even individuals.  Business leaders need to understand the potential and impact of what a service-oriented cloud computing infrastructure might mean to their organization, the game-changing potential of integration and interoperability, the freedom of mobility, and the practical execution of basic cloud computing characteristics within their ICT environment.

A certification is not all about getting the test, and certificate.  As an instructor for the CompTIA course, I manage classes of 20 or more students ranging from engineers, to network operations center staff, to customer service and sales, to mid-level executives.  We’ve yet to encounter an individual who claims they have learned nothing from attending the course, and most leave the course with a very different viewpoint of cloud computing than held prior to the class.

As with most technology driven topics, cloud computing does break into different branches – including technical, operations, and business utility.

The underlying technologies of cloud computing are probably the easiest part of the challenge, as ultimately skills will develop based on time, experience, and operation of cloud-related technologies.

The more difficult challenge is understanding the impact of cloud computing may mean to an organization, both internally as well as on a global scale.  No business-related discussion of cloud computing is complete without consideration of service-oriented architectures, enterprise architectures, interoperability, big data, disaster management, and continuity of operations.

Business decisions on data center consolidation, ICT outsourcing, and other aspects of the current technology refresh or financial consideration will be more effective and structured when accompanied by a basic business and high level understanding of cloud computing underlying technologies.  As an approach to business transformation, additional complimentary capabilities in enterprise architecture, service-oriented architectures, and IT service management will certainly help senior decision makers best understand the relationship between cloud computing and their organizational planning.

While reading the news, clipping stories, and self-study may help decision makers understand the basic components of cloud computing and other supporting technologies. Taking an introduction cloud computing course, regardless if vendor training or neutral, will give enough background knowledge to at least engage in the conversation. Given the hype surrounding cloud computing, and the potential long term consequences of making an uniformed decision, the investment in cloud computing training must be considered valuable at all levels of the organization, from technical to senior management.

ICT Modernization Planning

ICT ModernizationThe current technology refresh cycle presents many opportunities, and challenges to both organizations and governments.  The potential of service-oriented architectures, interoperability, collaboration, and continuity of operations is an attractive outcome of technologies and business models available today.  The challenges are more related to business processes and human factors, both of which require organizational transformations to take best advantage of the collaborative environments enabled through use of cloud computing and access to broadband communications.

Gaining the most benefit from planning an interoperable environment for governments and organizations may be facilitated through use of business tools such as cloud computing.  Cloud computing and underlying technologies may create an operational environment supporting many strategic objectives being considered within government and private sector organizations.

Reaching target architectures and capabilities is not a single action, and will require a clear understanding of current “as-is” baseline capabilities, target requirements, the gaps or capabilities need to reach the target, and establishing a clear transitional plan to bring the organization from a starting “as-is” baseline to the target goal.

To most effectively reach that goal requires an understanding of the various contributing components within the transformational ecosystem.  In addition, planners must keep in mind the goal is not implementation of technologies, but rather consideration of technologies as needed to facilitate business and operations process visions and goals.

Interoperability and Enterprise Architecture

Information technology, particularly communications-enabled technology has enhanced business process, education, and the quality of life for millions around the world.  However, traditionally ICT has created silos of information which is rarely integrated or interoperable with other data systems or sources.

As the science of enterprise architecture development and modeling, service-oriented architectures, and interoperability frameworks continue to force the issue of data integration and reuse, ICT developers are looking to reinforce open standards allowing publication of external interfaces and application programming interfaces.

Cloud computing, a rapidly maturing framework for virtualization, standardized data, application, and interface structure technologies, offers a wealth of tools to support development of both integrated and interoperable ICT  resources within organizations, as well as among their trading, shared, or collaborative workflow community.

The Institute for Enterprise Architecture Development defines enterprise architecture (EA) as a “complete expression of the enterprise; a master plan which acts as a collaboration force between aspects of business planning such as goals, visions, strategies and governance principles; aspects of business operations such as business terms, organization structures, processes and data; aspects of automation such as information systems and databases; and the enabling technological infrastructure of the business such as computers, operating systems and networks”

ICT, including utilities such as cloud computing, should focus on supporting the holistic objectives of organizations implementing an EA.  Non-interoperable or shared data will generally have less value than reusable data, and will greatly increase systems reliability and data integrity.

Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR)

Recent surveys of governments around the world indicate in most cases limited or no disaster management or continuity of operations planning.  The risk of losing critical national data resources due to natural or man-made disasters is high, and the ability for most governments maintain government and citizen services during a disaster is limited based on the amount of time (recovery time objective/RTO) required to restart government services, as well as the point of data restoral (recovery point objective /RPO).

In existing ICT environments, particularly those with organizational and data resource silos,  RTOs and RPOs can be extended to near indefinite if both a data backup plan, as well as systems and service restoral resource capacity is not present.  This is particularly acute if the processing environment includes legacy mainframe computer applications which do not have a mirrored recovery capacity available upon failure or loss of service due to disaster.

Cloud computing can provide a standards-based environment that fully supports near zero RTO/RPO requirements.  With the current limitation of cloud computing being based on Intel-compatible architectures, nearly any existing application or data source can be migrated into a virtual resource pool.   Once within the cloud computing Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) environment, setting up distributed processing or backup capacity is relatively uncomplicated, assuming the environment has adequate broadband access to the end user and between processing facilities.

Cloud computing-enabled BCDR also opens opportunities for developing either PPPs, or considering the potential of outsourcing into public or commercially operated cloud computing compute, storage, and communications infrastructure.  Again, the main limitation being the requirement for portability between systems.

Transformation Readiness

ICT modernization will drive change within all organizations.  Transformational readiness is not a matter of technology, but a combination of factors including rapidly changing business models, the need for many-to-many real-time communications, flattening of organizational structures, and the continued entry of technology and communications savvy employees into the workforce.

The potential of outsourcing utility compute, storage, application, and communications will eliminate the need for much physical infrastructure, such as redundant or obsolete data centers and server closets.  Roles will change based on the expected shift from physical data centers and ICT support hardware to virtual models based on subscriptions and catalogs of reusable application and process artifacts.

A business model for accomplishing ICT modernization includes cloud computing, which relies on technologies such as server and storage resource virtualization, adding operational characteristics including on-demand resource provisioning to reduce the time needed to procure ICT resources needed to respond to emerging operational  or other business opportunities.

IT management and service operations move from a workstation environment to a user interface driven by SaaS.  The skills needed to drive ICT within the organization will need to change, becoming closer to the business, while reducing the need to manage complex individual workstations.

IT organizations will need to change, as organizations may elect to outsource most or all of their underlying physical data center resources to a cloud service provider, either in a public or private environment.  This could eliminate the need for some positions, while driving new staffing requirements in skills related to cloud resource provisioning, management, and development.

Business unit managers may be able to take advantage of other aspects of cloud computing, including access to on-demand compute, storage, and applications development resources.  This may increase their ability to quickly respond to rapidly changing market conditions and other emerging opportunities.   Business unit managers, product developers, and sales teams will need to become familiar with their new ICT support tools.  All positions from project managers to sales support will need to quickly acquire skills necessary to take advantage of these new tools.

The Role of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a business representation of a large number of underlying technologies.  Including virtualization, development environment, and hosted applications, cloud computing provides a framework for developing standardized service models, deployment models, and service delivery characteristics.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a definition of cloud computing accepted throughout the ICT industry.

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.“

While organizations face decisions related to implementing challenges related to developing enterprise architectures and interoperability, cloud computing continues to rapidly develop as an environment with a rich set of compute, communication, development, standardization, and collaboration tools needed to meet organizational objectives.

Data security, including privacy, is different within a cloud computing environment, as the potential for data sharing is expanded among both internal and potentially external agencies.  Security concerns are expanded when questions of infrastructure multi-tenancy, network access to hosted applications (Software as a Service / SaaS), and governance of authentication and authorization raise questions on end user trust of the cloud provider.

A move to cloud computing is often associated with data center consolidation initiatives within both governments and large organizations.  Cloud delivery models, including Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) support the development of virtual data centers.

While it is clear long term target architectures for most organizations will be an environment with a single data system, in the short term it may be more important to decommission high risk server closets and unmanaged servers into a centralized, well-managed data center environment offering on-demand access to compute, storage, and network resources – as well as BCDR options.

Even at the most basic level of considering IaaS and PaaS as a replacement environment to physical infrastructure, the benefits to the organization may become quickly apparent.  If the organization establishes a “cloud first” policy to force consolidation of inefficient or high risk ICT resources, and that environment further aligns the organization through the use of standardized IT components, the ultimate goal of reaching interoperability or some level of data integration will become much easier, and in fact a natural evolution.

Nearly all major ICT-related hardware and software companies are re-engineering their product development to either drive cloud computing, or be cloud-aware.  Microsoft has released their Office 365 suite of online and hosted environments, as has Google with both PaaS and SaaS tools such as the Google Apps Engine and Google Docs.

The benefits of organizations considering a move to hosted environments, such as MS 365, are based on access to a rich set of applications and resources available on-demand, using a subscription model – rather than licensing model, offering a high level of standardization to developers and applications.

Users comfortable with standard office automation and productivity tools will find the same features in a SaaS environment, while still being relieved of individual software license costs, application maintenance, or potential loss of resources due to equipment failure or theft.  Hosted applications also allow a persistent state, collaborative real-time environment for multi-users requiring access to documents or projects.  Document management and single source data available for reuse by applications and other users, reporting, and performance management becomes routine, reducing the potential and threat of data corruption.

The shortfalls, particularly for governments, is that using a large commercial cloud infrastructure and service provider such as Microsoft  may require physically storing data in location outside of their home country, as well as forcing data into a multi-tenant environment which may not meet security requirements for organizations.

Cloud computing offers an additional major feature at the SaaS level that will benefit nearly all organizations transitioning to a mobile workforce.  SaaS by definition is platform independent.  Users access SaaS applications and underlying data via any device offering a network connection, and allowing access to an Internet-connected address through a browser.    The actual intelligence in an application is at the server or virtual server, and the user device is simply a dumb terminal displaying a portal, access point, or the results of a query or application executed through a command at the user screen.

Cloud computing continues to develop as a framework and toolset for meeting business objectives.  Cloud computing is well-suited to respond to rapidly changing business and organizational needs, as the characteristics of on-demand access to infrastructure resources, rapid elasticity, or the ability to provision and de-provision resources as needed to meet processing and storage demand, and organization’s ability to measure cloud computing resource use for internal and external accounting mark a major change in how an organization budgets ICT.

As cloud computing matures, each organization entering a technology refresh cycle must ask the question “are we in the technology business, or should we concentrate our efforts and budget in efforts directly supporting realizing objectives?”  If the answer is the latter, then any organization should evaluate outsourcing their ICT infrastructure to an internal or commercial cloud service provider.

It should be noted that today most cloud computing IaaS service platforms will not support migration of mainframe applications, such as those written for a RISC processor.  Those application require redevelopment to operate within an Intel-compatible processing environment.

Broadband Factor

Cloud computing components are currently implemented over an Internet Protocol network.  Users accessing SaaS application will need to have network access to connect with applications and data.  Depending on the amount of graphics information transmitted from the host to an individual user access terminal, poor bandwidth or lack of broadband could result in an unsatisfactory experience.

In addition, BCDR requires the transfer of potentially large amounts of data between primary and backup locations. Depending on the data parsing plan, whether mirroring data, partial backups, full backups, or live load balancing, data transfer between sites could be restricted if sufficient bandwidth is not available between sites.

Cloud computing is dependent on broadband as a means of connecting users to resources, and data transfer between sites.  Any organization considering implementing cloud computing outside of an organization local area network will need to fully understand what shortfalls or limitations may result in the cloud implementation not meeting objectives.

The Service-Oriented Cloud Computing Infrastructure (SOCCI)

Governments and other organizations are entering a technology refresh cycle based on existing ICT hardware and software infrastructure hitting the end of life.  In addition, as the world aggressively continues to break down national and technical borders, the need for organizations to reconsider the creation, use, and management of data supporting both mission critical business processes, as well as decision support systems will drive change.

Given the clear direction industry is taking to embrace cloud computing services, as well as the awareness existing siloed data structures within many organizations would better serve the organization in a service-oriented  framework, it makes sense to consider an integrated approach.

A SOCCI considers both, adding reference models and frameworks which will also add enterprise architecture models such as TOGAF to ultimately provide a broad, mature framework to support business managers and IT managers in their technology and business refresh planning process.

SOCCIs promote the use of architectural building blocks, publication of external interfaces for each application or data source developed, single source data, reuse of data and standardized application building block, as well as development and use of enterprise service buses to promote further integration and interoperability of data.

A SOCCI will look at elements of cloud computing, such as virtualized and on-demand compute/storage resources, and access to broadband communications – including security, encryption, switching, routing, and access as a utility.  The utility is always available to the organization for use and exploitation.  Higher level cloud components including PaaS and SaaS add value, in addition to higher level entry points to develop the ICT tools needed to meet the overall enterprise architecture and service-orientation needed to meet organizational needs.

According to the Open Group a SOCCI framework provides the foundation for connecting a service-oriented infrastructure with the utility of cloud computing.  As enterprise architecture and interoperability frameworks continue to gain in value and importance to organizations, this framework will provide additional leverage to make best use of available ICT tools.

The Bottom Line on ICT Modernization

The Internet Has reached nearly every point in the world, providing a global community functioning within an always available, real-time communications infrastructure.  University and primary school graduates are entering the workforce with social media, SaaS, collaboration, and location transparent peer communities diffused in their tacit knowledge and experience.

This environment has greatly flattened any leverage formerly developed countries, or large monopoly companies have enjoyed during the past several technology and market cycles.

An organization based on non-interoperable or standardized data, and no BCDR protection will certainly risk losing a competitive edge in a world being created by technology and data aware challengers.

Given the urgency organizations face to address data security, continuity of operations, agility to respond to market conditions, and operational costs associated with traditional ICT infrastructure, many are looking to emerging technology frameworks such as cloud computing to provide a model for planning solutions to those challenges.

Cloud computing and enterprise architecture frameworks provide guidance and a set of tools to assist organizations in providing structure, and infrastructure needed to accomplish ICT modernization objectives.

Data Center Consolidation and Adopting Cloud Computing in 2013

Throughout 2012 large organizations and governments around the world continued to struggle with the idea of consolidating inefficient data centers, server closets, and individual “rogue” servers scattered around their enterprise or government agencies.  Issues dealt with the cost of operating data centers, disaster management of information technology resources, and of course human factors centered on control, power, or retention of jobs in a rapidly evolving IT industry.

Cloud computing and virtualization continue to have an impact on all consolidation discussions, not only from the standpoint of providing a much better model for managing physical assets, but also in the potential cloud offers to solve disaster recovery shortfalls, improve standardization, and encourage or enable development of service-oriented architectures.

Our involvement in projects ranging from local, state, and national government levels in both the United States and other countries indicates a consistent need for answering the following concerns:

  • Existing IT infrastructure, including both IT and facility, is reaching the end of its operational life
  • Collaboration requirements between internal and external users are expanding quickly, driving an architectural need for interoperability
  • Decision support systems require access to both raw data, and “big data/archival data”

We would like to see an effort within the IT community to move in the following directions:

  1. Real effort at decommissioning and eliminating inefficient data centers
  2. All data and applications should be fit into an enterprise architecture framework – regardless of the size of organization or data
  3. Aggressive development of standards supporting interoperability, portability, and reuse of objects and data

Regardless of the very public failures experienced by cloud service providers over the past year, the reality is cloud computing as an IT architecture and model is gaining traction, and is not likely to go away any time soon.  As with any emerging service or technology, cloud services will continue to develop and mature, reducing the impact and frequency of failures.

Future Data CentersWhy would an organization continue to buy individual high powered workstations, individual software licenses, and device-bound storage when the same application can be delivered to a simple display, or wide variety of displays, with standardized web-enabled cloud (SaaS) applications that store mission critical data images on a secure storage system at a secure site?  Why not facilitate the transition from CAPEX to OPEX, license to subscription, infrastructure to product and service development?

In reality, unless an organization is in the hardware or software development business, there is very little technical justification for building and managing a data center.  This includes secure facilities supporting military or other sensitive sites.

The cost of building and maintaining a data center, compared with either outsourcing into a commercial colocation site – or virtualizing data, applications, and network access requirements has gained the attention of CFOs and CEOs, requiring IT managers to more explicitly justify the cost of building internal infrastructure vs. outsourcing.  This is quickly becoming a very difficult task.

Money spent on a data center infrastructure is lost to the organization.  The cost of labor is high, the cost of energy, space, and maintenance is high.  Mooney that could be better applied to product and service development, customer service capacity, or other revenue and customer-facing activities.

The Bandwidth Factor

The one major limitation the IT community will need to overcome as data center consolidation continues and cloud services become the ‘norm, is bandwidth.  Applications, such as streaming video, unified communications, and data intensive applications will need more bandwidth.  The telecom companies are making progress, having deployed 100gbps backbone capacity in many markets.  However this capacity will need to continue growing quickly to meet the needs of organizations needing to access data and applications stored or hosted within a virtual or cloud computing environment.

Consider a national government’s IT requirements.  If the government, like most, are based within a metro area.  The agencies and departments consolidate their individual data centers and server closets into a central or reduced number of facilities.   Government interoperability frameworks begin to make small steps allowing cross-agency data sharing, and individual users need access to a variety of applications and data sources needed to fulfill their decision support requirements.

For example, a GIS (Geospatial/Geographic Information System) with multiple demographic or other overlays.  Individual users will need to display data that may be drawn from several data sources, through GIS applications, and display a large amount of complex data on individual display screens.  Without broadband access between both the user and application, as well as application and data sources, the result will be a very poor user experience.

Another example is using the capabilities of video conferencing, desktop sharing, and interactive persistent-state application sharing.  Without adequate bandwidth this is simply not possible.

Revisiting the “4th Utility” for 2013

The final vision on the 2013 “wishlist” is that we, as an IT industry, continue to acknowledge the need for developing the 4th Utility.  This is the idea that broadband communications, processing capacity (including SaaS applications), and storage is the right of all citizens.  Much like the first three utilities, roads, water, and electricity, the 4th Utility must be a basic part of all discussions related to national, state, or local infrastructure discussions.  As we move into the next millennium, Internet-enabled, or something like Internet-enabled communications will be an essential part of all our lives.

The 4th Utility requires high capacity fiber optic infrastructure and broadband wireless be delivered to any location within the country which supports a community or individual connected to a community.   We’ll have to [pay a fee to access the utility (same as other utilities), but it is our right and obligation to deliver the utility.

2013 will be a lot of fun for us in the IT industry.  Cloud computing is going to impact everybody – one way or the other.  Individual data centers will continue to close.  Service-oriented architectures, enterprise architecture, process modeling, and design efficiency will drive a lot of innovation.   – We’ll lose some players, gain players, and and we’ll be in a better position at the end of 2013 than today.

Gartner Data Center Conference Looks Into Open Source Clouds and Data Backup

LV-2Day two of the Gartner Data Center Conference in Las Vegas continued reinforcing old topics, appearing at times to be either enlist attendees in contributing to Gartner research, or simply providing conference content directed to promoting conference sponsors.

For example, sessions “To the Point:  When Open Meets Cloud” and “Backup/Recovery: Backing Up the Future” included a series of audience surveys.  Those surveys were apparently the same as presented, in the same sessions, for several years.  Thus the speaker immediately referenced this year’s results vs. results from the same survey questions from the past two years.  This would lead a casual attendee to believe nothing radically new is being presented in the above topics, and the attendees are generally contributing to further trend analysis research that will eventually show up in a commercial Gartner Research Note.

Gartner analyst and speaker on the topic of “When Open Meets Clouds,” Aneel Lakhani, did make a couple useful, if not obvious points in his presentation.

  • We cannot secure complete freedom from vendors, regardless of how much you adopt open source
  • Open source can actually be more expensive than commercial products
  • Interoperability is easy to say, but a heck of a lot more complicated to implement
  • Enterprise users have a very low threshold for “test” environments (sorry DevOps guys)
  • If your organization has the time and staff, test, test, and test a bit more to ensure your open source product will perform as expected or designed

However analyst Dave Russell, speaker on the topic of “Backup/Recovery” was a bit more cut and paste in his approach.  Lots of questions to match against last year’s conference, and a strong emphasis on using tape as a continuing, if not growing media for disaster recovery.

Problem with this presentation was the discussion centered on backing up data – very little on business continuity.  In fact, in one slide he referenced a recovery point objective (RPO) of one day for backups.   What organization operating in a global market, in Internet time, can possibly design for a one day RPO?

In addition, there was no discussion on the need for compatible hardware in a disaster recovery site that would allow immediate or rapid restart of applications.  Having data on tape is fine.  Having mainframe archival data is fine.  But without a business continuity capability, it is likely any organization will suffer significant damage in their ability to function in their marketplace.  Very few organizations today can absorb an extended global presence outage or marketplace outage.

The conference continues until Thursday and we will look for more, positive approaches, to data center and cloud computing.

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