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Risks of data center maturity

Of all the mandates faced by an enterprise data center, the mandate of “maturity” is perhaps the most treacherous and self-defeating. The early life cycle of a data center is typically based on functional stability, making the investment in operational basics needed to keep the shop open and deliver essential IT services. These so-called operational basics include infrastructure, such as servers, storage and networks; security planning, such as Active Directory configuration and malware support; and core application support, such as Exchange Server.

But data centers mature and grow over time. It’s not enough for IT managers to deploy Web and email servers, check for alerts and sip their afternoon coffee. Every data center must “mature” to some extent so that it becomes a business partner or collaborator rather than just a cost center.

The problem is that the path to data center maturity is clouded by technologies, strategies and initiatives that wind up getting in the way of everyday things that data centers and IT staff do well. As businesses refocus their attention on things like enterprise architecture, business intelligence and project management, there is a disturbing tendency for the business (and IT) to lose focus on the underlying infrastructure and operational aspects that got IT a seat at the executive table in the first place.

The result is that IT maturity unexpectedly sputters and stops–-usually at a point just before it emerges as a real differentiator for the business. Consider the high-end systems management framework that takes 12 months to configure before it’s able to provide any useful insight, only to be obsolete and worthless three months later because it costs too much and takes too long for the IT team to keep the framework updated. Or, the new enterprise architecture project that bogs down or stalls because the necessary infrastructure documentation is lacking. Sound familiar?

Yes, every tie-wearing, desk-wielding CIO longs to reach the mountaintop–the day when their IT department can become some sort of mystical “transformational force” in the business. And yes, this type of lofty goal will demand a substantial level of IT maturity (and a substantial financial investment to match). But it’s unwise for any business to pursue maturity path strictly for its own sake. It’s more important for IT to provide value within the roles that business wants and needs–and stay focused on the basics that will facilitate future growth when a meaningful opportunity to mature finally arrives.

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