A new report has identified server virtualization and service-oriented architecture as two of the key technologies for organizations seeking to create a more flexible IT environment. However, while interest in both technologies is very high, the implementation experience is very different.
As part of the research for the report, Butler Group’s detailed IT flexibility study of 80 organizations showed that 69% of respondents had already deployed or trialed a server virtualization solution. By contrast, although 60% of organizations were evaluating or adopting a service-oriented architecture (SOA) strategy, only 8% had deployed live services.
The outcomes of hardware flexibility are primarily cost savings and efficiency, whereas software flexibility is the main instigator of new business value. Organizations must focus on their SOA efforts if they are to benefit from greater flexibility.
The IT function must be tightly focused on providing an efficient and reliable service, which can adapt to business requirements with minimal operational and technological barriers. The reality for most organizations, however, is that these barriers are formidable, including issues such as poor-quality IT processes, the cost of maintaining legacy systems, the inflexibility of hard-coded business rules, and ineffective project management. An IT flexibility strategy, therefore, principally involves the progressive removal of these barriers, to allow IT to become an enabler, and when appropriate a driver, of change within the organization.
Server virtualization enables application view to be abstracted
Many organizations are now at the point where the large number of servers and distributed storage within the business has started to become unmanageable, from both a cost and administration perspective. This distributed systems strategy is causing a considerable number of issues for the business as a whole, such as rising costs, poor response times, service unavailability, and the inability to cater for disaster recovery and business continuity.
The use of server and storage virtualization technology is bringing significant benefits, including the creation of a more flexible pool of IT resources better able to support consolidation and optimization strategies, along with improved workload management, and much better utilization of hardware. This is expected to become a key element of infrastructure flexibility that will see rapid growth over the next two years.
The move towards a SOA is key to software flexibility
Improving software flexibility proceeds through phases of standardization, consolidation, and modularization. Standardization comes through the increasing abstraction of software, with more capabilities, such as identity management, data management, and presence, becoming part of the software infrastructure, rather than having to be coded separately into each application. Consolidation comes from the requirement to move away from siloed IT solutions, and reduce the number of individual products that provide the software functionality of the organization.
The ultimate phase of platform evolution is that of modularization, and it is here that the most dramatic shift in the landscape can be seen. The idea of componentizing software functionality is not a new one, but it has now become the key element of software flexibility, firstly in modularizing the software infrastructure itself through a SOA, and secondly in helping users to build their own modular, or ‘composite’, applications running on that platform.
Pure technical skills less important problem-solving understanding
While the hardware and software infrastructure provide the foundations for flexibility, it is the people and processes involved in delivering the IT service that are ultimately responsible for the successful execution of projects and of the overall flexibility strategy. The types of skills needed must be aligned not only with individual projects and technologies, but also with the organization’s strategic intentions relating to IT.
For example, if it is intended for the IT function to be a strong agent for change within the organization, a workforce that is recruited purely for its technical talents may not be able to fulfill the strategic goals that management has in mind – recruitment and training programs would have to focus on developing these capabilities among the appropriate areas of the IT function.
The report concludes that achieving IT flexibility requires a well planned and consistent approach that draws together the domains of infrastructure, software, and operations. While it is an ongoing strategy that will mature over a multi-year period, there are immediate benefits that can be realized in all these domains, and we recommend that every organization should take heed of the principles outlined.
IT flexibility will be a significant driver for competitive advantage, while the alternative of persisting with a disjointed and unmanaged approach will result in underperformance and increasingly unmanageable complexity.