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Equinix CIO: IT in itself is 'meaningless'

CIO Brian Lillie discusses the push toward third-party data center providers and the importance of seeing IT as a business.

Brian Lillie, the CIO of Equinix, a global colocation and Internet exchange provider, knows a good deal about data center management and the drive to outsource IT functions. Recently, spoke to Lillie about the role of data center managers in the future and why IT is "meaningless," two themes that he will address in his keynote at the AFCOM spring Data Center World show in Nashville next month.

What are some of your main themes for your Data Center World keynote address?
Brian Lillie: We're seeing consistent themes across regions: that data centers are constrained and that demand is still outstripping supply. Power is a limiting factor, and what we're finding is there is more of a drive toward service providers. Gartner said that by 2012, 20% of businesses will own no IT assets. The clear implication is that more and more companies are looking to partners and outsource providers to get IT on demand. Twenty percent may be a stretch, but the trend is clearly there.

So where does that leave data center managers? Will they be out of a job, then?
B.L.: There is still a key role they can play. When you're responsible for a data center, if it's internally built you're almost in the construction management business. Having done that before, you spend an inordinate amount of time on infrastructure. Frankly, people on the business side just want it to work. As the strategy starts to shift to partnering with somebody on infrastructure, the focus will shift more toward optimizing the application portfolio that sits on that underlying infrastructure.

At Equinix, we don't manage the server infrastructure. We don't handle virtualization. So there are various levels of owning IT assets.

You mentioned people on the business side. Your résumé includes a mix of purely IT positions and more business-oriented positions. How critical is it that data center and IT managers see their job as one that feeds the business?

What we're finding is there is more of a drive toward service providers.
Brian Lillie,
B.L.: I think that's critical. One of the things I love to do is just coach and help people grow in their career. In IT, one of the most important pieces of advice I give[is] that if you want to be a CIO, there are two things you really need to bring to the table.

One is as much domain-level expertise as possible. You want to understand the applications, how they run, why they're being run, usage, performance monitoring. Why are you provisioning this asset? You can't be a CIO without some domain level expertise in the IT function.

The second thing is to never ever lose sight that the reason you have a role and a job is to service the business. IT in and of itself is meaningless. It has to be there to provide a service. As soon as you're not providing a service, you're irrelevant and can be easily marginalized. Understand the business application of technology. That's how you'll be successful.

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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