The Neglected Customer

Date:   Monday , November 17, 2008

The discipline of IT networked infrastructure management is undergoing an evolutionary transition to a higher functional level in organizations. The primary driver is recognition and acceptance by the business executives of their deepening dependence on networked IT infrastructure to produce revenue and profits. To maintain and increase revenue streams, businesses must carry out operations in geographically expanding markets. This economic reality in turn necessitates an extended IT networked infrastructure to support these geographically distributed business operations. Over 70 percent of IT departments of Fortune 2000 companies report to the CEO instead of the CFO indicating the new trend that IT is viewed as a contributor to revenue and profitability of the business.

With this business recognition, there is an increased scrutiny of IT operations and a mounting pressure on the IT management to run its operations as a service business in support of corporate business objectives.

If an IT organization is to operate as a service business successfully, it has to look at customer needs, and innovate to produce appropriate services and deliver these to the customers. In general, the corporate IT organization provides services to three distinct customers:

1. External business users (consumers, partners, suppliers) to maximize revenue.

2. Internal customers or business labor (order taking, accounting, manufacturing, warehousing), to maximize profit.

3. The IT organization itself (data centers, NoC, Help Desk) to ensure IT alignment with corporate business objectives.

Historically IT firms focused their attention on the first two types of customers for revenue generation despite cyclical periods of dissatisfaction expressed by the business community. These dissatisfaction stems from the insolvable fundamental dilemma facing IT; how to control an increasingly distributed IT infrastructure environment by centralized means. It is this fundamental dilemma that is responsible for continual misalignment between IT operations in support of corporate business objectives.

Partially due to decades of adhering to the myopic mantra, “Do more with less,” constantly being imposed on IT by cost conscious business executives, IT shops neglected to serve the third IT customer and the IT operation itself.

As a result, the organization evolved as a number of rigid “silos” where networked infrastructure departments operated independently of systems, applications, or security operations. Although, these "silos" improved its operational efficiencies, as an entire entity the IT firms operated ineffectively and often in deep isolation, not only internally, but also with other business functions of the corporation. By increasing focus on services to the neglected customer, i.e. the IT companies, operational inefficiencies are addressed and more effective use of the networked infrastructure will promote comprehensive information exchanges and collaboration among IT "silo" communities as well as the entire corporate organization. This is a perquisite for realization of the "computing on demand" vision.

Superimposed on this organizational dilemma, and just as daunting, is the technical dilemma of the networked infrastructure operating continuously in an environment of dynamic instability. Networked infrastructures are springs that are continuously stretched and released with dynamically changing loads. However, once deployed, the networked infrastructure has a fixed bandwidth.

Increasing the span of distributed networked infrastructures requires exponentially increasing management data to be transported to a centrally located control in the Network Operations Center (NoC). To avoid this networked infrastructure impact, a number of strategies have been deployed in the past, all of which essentially resulted in less than adequate information available to IT personnel maintaining and managing the corporate IT networked infrastructure.

Increasing networked infrastructure bandwidth and a significant increase in the computational power of processing equipment coalesce to enable technologies and products to generate comprehensive information, effectively controlling the behavior of the networked infrastructure. Among the many emerging technologies, the following seem to be slated for the most significant long-term impact:

1.CMDB (Configuration Management Database) - an enabling technology dedicated to assuring management data integrity and efficient processing throughout the entire corporate environment.

2.Network Data Flow Based Analytics - focus on real-time traffic flow among the networked infrastructure components and analysis of relationships to more effectively control networked infrastructure behavior in support of network delivered services.

3. IT Asset Performance Management - networked IT infrastructure resource management services for more efficient use of IT assets for optimum TCO (total cost of ownership).

CMDB is consequential in reducing data duplication, data formatting, and data synchronization from both internal and external sources of the corporation. In an interview with EMA, a VP for Network Operations in a major financial institution commented that “...eight times out of ten a change in network device configuration will require secondary reconfigurations and ten percent of the time result in catastrophic failure…” CMDB assured data integrity readily made available to appropriate number of analytic engines can in real time provide comprehensive information to IT personnel on the secondary changes required and/or automatically correct networked IT infrastructure behavior to avoid catastrophic failures. At a rate of $14 million loss per minute of downtime in a brokerage operation, an average catastrophic failure of three minutes results in $42 million loss. The cost of tools for networked IT infrastructure to provide effective control and potentially automated corrective actions in such environment is much lower than a single outage.

Moreover, these technologies combine to improve physical and data security, regulatory compliance, services optimization and scores of other benefits for risk mitigation. By factoring their neglected customers, the IT organization itself, with networked IT infrastructure management, transitions to achieve effective, rather than just efficient, control and the capability for a much closer alignment with business operational objectives.

J. Jeffrey Nudler is a Senior Analyst, Availability, Configuration, and Perform Management at Enterprise Management Associates.