19 Jan 2015
The New Year is upon us and the number one question in your mind should be: How will I spend my IT budget this year (if it’s not, we need to discuss on why investing in IT is crucial for your business: IT is an enabler and as such it needs to be built on strong foundations, agile and lean, please refer to one of my previous post for more details: IT as a Value Center  The only way to achieve this is to leverage newer technologies that are built for automation and orchestration.).
I had this discussion with several of my clients last year and wanted to get feedback from a larger audience. For this I will primarily focus on infrastructure spend. I see primarily three main vectors to invest: hardware, software or people. Hardware is a proven path, it is a very tangible asset, you can see it and because of its legacy it is reliable and performant, but it is also more rigid, not always simple to automate and often tied to fix refresh cycles. Software has also been around for a long time, but its value is sometime harder to quantify especially when looking at software to replace traditional hardware solutions (Software Defined Storage (SDS), Software Defined Network (SDN)…), but being a newer kid on the block, it has typically more hooks to automate and can be changed “quickly” to enable new versions. People is the third one, what I mean here is not that you need the best of the best to operate that environment (you do, on your bench or via a partner), but that rather than buying “supported” solutions from vendors (hardware and/or software) you are investing in building/customizing your own version of the tools you need.
Choosing between those three is the tough question. That’s where having a deep understanding of your company is important: What is you tolerance for risk? How fast is your industry changing? What would give you an edge on your competitors? What would increase your value to your customers? How large is your IT footprint? For most of my customers, I can quickly eliminate the people vector: assembling and operating a team that would yield a solution comparable to one provided by a vendor is not within their budget or aspirations. Hardware and software are slightly more complicated, as of today (it is changing real fast), I would still be comfortable stating that hardware is “safer”, but the question is can you company afford to be safe? Buying fix assets today will “lock” you into that solution for 3-5 years, can you predict that it will still serve you purpose then? Software is promising a world of constant new value and simplified operations, but is the risk worth it to you “today”? Take the time to build a multiyear strategy, understand what assets will be needed when o support your business. Once you have that, you should be able to create an adoption path that will take you there.
Before I conclude, please let me muddy the waters a bit more: what does hardware mean today? Most hardware vendors will actually tell you that they are software vendors! (and I would agree with them!) So I would suggest you think about it along those lines: some level of vendor lock-in is inevitable, just make sure it is with a vendor you want to follow. When you make investments, make sure they are able to evolve with you as needed. Your datacenter will be multi-vendor, but that does not mean you should have one of each, when possible, look for vendors with wider portfolios and strong partners. Finally, management is probably the most important aspect of the solution, make sure it is simple to operate, simple to troubleshoot and built for automation. This is how you will move IT from supporting the business to IT enabling the business.