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Issue of October 2005 

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The elusive infrastructure management goal

Infrastructure management is a complex issue, and the lack of adequate tools makes it an elusive goal to achieve. Nitin Paul, Founder & CEO of n-Evangelist, talks about the challenges for the CIO that stand in the way of the goal.

Business decision-makers today not only expect, but also demand consistent service level guarantees for key applications or services across the whole enterprise. Large-scale automation has taken place, or is set to happen in key functions of organisations. Enterprises are heavily dependent on these automation applications across functions.

If we were to critically consider options available to automate processes, we’ll find applications encompassing every function. There are ERP systems, sales and distribution modules, CRM, SCM, and a host of standard applications available to critically evaluate and implement in their respective functions. This creates an ecosystem of enterprise applications across the company.

The critical responsibility

The most important and critical responsibility of the ownership of these enterprise applications is the IT department of the organisation. And within the IT function, the IT infrastructure is the most critical component due to the dependencies on the applications for each function.

An interesting part of all this is that management of the IT infrastructure is the only area which does not have a standard application available to handle processes or bring about elements of intelligence.

The available applications/tools are only point tools. But in order to manage a large IT setup, one needs to integrate multiple tools which many IT teams avoid due to the complexities of implementing and running such tools. The only way the IT teams today cope with it is by outsourcing the IT infrastructure to a third party.

Human interference

There are various infrastructure management models currently available, but these require human interference.

Manual interference and the lack of consistent service management processes is still the number one source of incidents resulting in end-user downtime.

The biggest challenge

The biggest challenge for IT infrastructure managers today is unplanned and untested infrastructure change. Let’s face it: humans are not very good at repetitive tasks, so this cries out for automation.

Over the last year during my interaction with some of the top IT infrastructure managers, I was able to get an idea about the key challenges in running corporate IT infrastructure, in a country like ours with a diverse business environment. These challenges make IT infrastructure management elusive. They are:

  • Multiple technologies, protocols, and vendors
  • Diverse geographies and users
  • Greater business demands and Moore’s Law
  • A daunting environment

Increased complexities

Today, even small IT environments have many inter-related components. Complexity arises from the inter-dependencies among these components, which increase exponentially as business demands the addition of hardware and software to IT architectures.

It may be necessary to add network elements such as servers, networks, storage systems, and management systems. The organisation may need to upgrade its facilities and expand the scope of processes and organisational structures.

Management and control become critical to business as the IT environment becomes more complex. With millions of inter-dependencies, many are difficult to identify, some are difficult to understand, and others are outside our domain of control. IT infrastructure management is a formidable undertaking if we can’t understand and control the inter-dependencies.

Multiple technologies, protocols and vendors

Not long ago, mission-critical systems all ran on mainframe technology. With the advent of the PC, LANs, and related technologies many business applications moved from the protected realm of the mainframe data centre to the free-flowing desktops of users.

Today’s hottest gadgets include Blackberrys, pocket PCs, Palm PCs, and other devices that connect to networks, allowing users to carry data with them.

When dealing with the architecture or systems deployment strategy, no longer are IT managers bound to use host-based configurations where a large, powerful central computer does all the processing, and users interact via dumb terminals.

In today’s client/server architectures, each computing resource can be a client, a server, or both at various times. With this architecture, the mainframe is regarded as a fat server, and the dumb terminal becomes a thin client.

Alternatively, IT managers can choose a fat client (a powerful PC) that communicates with a thin server, or a newer Web-centred or n-tier architecture. Each of these approaches present unique deployment, management, and availability challenges.

The IT industry is an apt example of a democracy. Enterprises can buy from scores of vendors whose products implement the same popular technologies and standards, and safely assume that your products will work—most of the time, at least.

But freedom can be abused, and even in the best case, it creates enormous challenges for IT professionals, who are called upon to get multi-vendor products to work together with mission-critical reliability.

Today, even small IT environments have many inter-related components. Complexity arises from the inter-dependencies among these components, which increase exponentially as business demands the addition of hardware and software to IT architectures

Diverse geographies and users

Technology is a great enabler and empowers individuals to perform equally well wherever they are. Gone are the days when all requests for computations or data manipulation would have to be submitted to the EDP. Today, nearly everyone in the organisation has access to some form of computing resource.

With the growth of networks comes the challenge of managing computing resources that are physically distant from each other. In the 1960s, the IT organisation only needed to worry about its ‘glass house’—the room where its giant mainframe was protected.

Today, you must provide extensive remote-user access. Given the telecom reach today users can connect to your system via the public telephone network, rent leased lines to remote departments or offices and also connect to the Internet. Users want to work from their homes, or from wherever their jobs take them.

Managing all the varied users is a big challenge. As a result, IT professionals must ensure that their systems consider the skills, experience, and languaReaderwarege of a wider range of users than ever before.

Greater business demands and Moore’s Law

Information technology is no longer a matter of competitive advantage—it’s a matter of survival. Customers now routinely demand what were once ‘extra’ features and capabilities.

They ask questions such as, what’s your web address so I can get more information about your products? Do you have an e-mail address where I can send information about my problems or concerns? Can I do business with you electronically, and do away with all these paper forms? Can I access my bank account from the Internet?

Anybody who follows the IT industry can attest to the fact that the rate of new product developments is growing exponentially. Businesses once went several months without new product announcements. Now, not only do businesses introduce new products (or versions of their products) more often, but many more businesses are involved.

In addition to this, the biggest factor driving this industry is Moore’s law and with possibilities of technology deployment increasing manifold the challenges to manage it are also growing exponentially.

A daunting environment

To summarise, IT infrastructure professionals are living in a world where they have to use a service-led model as there is no single tool available to cater to their needs; and build a process-based governance layer to manage their roles better.

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