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Siloing stifles data center growth

It's time to knock down those silos, one by one. IT is transforming from a siloed set of reactive cost centers into a service provider with a focus on helping the business compete.

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Siloing may be a comfortable place for subject matter experts in their own domains, but it is not IT at its best.

In the old days of IT, admins built clear silos of domain expertise; IT infrastructure was complicated. Server admins monitored compute hosts, storage admins wrangled disks and network people untangled wires. Implementing parallel domains seemed like the best way to optimize IT. The theory was that you could run IT as efficiently as possible, allowing experts to learn specialized skills, deploy domain-specific hardware and manage complex resources.

Except that dealing with multiple IT domains was never optimal for anyone in the data center. When IT is organized into silos, anytime there is problem -- troubleshooting application performance, competing for rack space, or allocating a limited budget -- the resulting bickering, finger-pointing and political posturing wastes valuable time and money. And heterogeneous infrastructure is not very interoperable, despite standardized protocols and thorough vendor validation testing.

Navigating a byzantine organization just to try out new things can stifle business creativity and innovation, but things are beginning to change. There is a massive shift in IT organization and staffing.

Virtualization sucks up silos

Virtualization plays a big role in collapsing IT management domains. At first, virtualization tools focused on freeing the server domain, aggregating and pooling physical hosts to serve out idealized virtual machine images. That was a big improvement. As a former systems management consultant, I remember packed corporate data centers where over half of the hosts lay idle or barely utilized, each dedicated to some little-used (but always-important) application. The amount of over-provisioning was astounding. Not only did virtualization reclaim excess capacity, it also homogenized the underlying physical resources, and thus simplified infrastructure management.

Virtualization, which is now ubiquitous, has evolved to include more than servers. Storage and networking can be virtualized at different levels. Variations of these resources can be deployed as virtual appliances (e.g., HP StoreVirtual VSA), and hypervisors are beginning to integrate these resources directly in the kernel (e.g., VMware Virtual SAN). While not all workloads are best served with virtualized resources, we do see the virtualization admin taking on more direct control of and responsibility for operating the end-to-end infrastructure.

Clouds make IT foggy

Internal IT organizations must evolve into IT service providers as well, if only to keep up with the external competition. As a service provider, the focus shifts to providing value through service delivery and away from silo management.

Most IT clouds will likely become hybrid, meaning that IT will have to take advantage where workloads run for greatest advantage at the lowest cost. IT will need to be able to inter-operate data and workloads between on-premise infrastructure and cloud-hosted assets, using elastic provisioning and dynamic subscription pricing. But this won't happen as long as IT is organized into independently managed silos that regularly disagree and compete for budget.

Convergence looms large

Perhaps the most direct trend aiming to tear down IT silos is convergence. IT vendors like VCE, Dell, HP, IBM and system integrators (using reference architectures) pre-package racks of existing server, storage and networking hardware together, usually with a hypervisor pre-installed and some unified element management solution layered on top. Converged tools deliver plug-and-play IT infrastructure, but it might still require deep silo expertise. The main attraction is the quick deployment more than anything else -- the success of converged tools stems from the failure of their respective components to interoperate (or autonomously install) nicely out of the box.

Going a step further, there are hyper convergence tools from vendors like Simplivity, Scale Computing, Nutanix and Nimboxx that send boxed appliances with server, storage and networking all together. Beyond simplification and domain convergence, hyperconverged tools also offer internal, built-in optimizations (e.g., global inline dedupe) and plug-and-play scale-out growth.

There are also competing "hyperconvergence reference architecture" offerings assembled by system integrators that leverage software defined infrastructure (e.g., Maxta) on commodity servers. The key is that hyperconverged infrastructure doesn't come with discrete silos.

It boils down to management

To make it all work, IT management products need to include cross-domain features and incorporate hybrid cloud coverage. IT management then shifts from element monitoring toward ensuring delivered service qualities. Automation, policies and expert systems will come to replace a lot of the need for on-premises subject-matter expertise.

So what happens to IT organizations? IT might reorganize around a virtual-hybrid cloud admin to manage and align IT services to applications, a cloud service "broker" who will do high-level capacity planning to optimize across on- and off-premises IT, and an infrastructure/facilities owner who will build competitive private data centers using converged building blocks.

On the application side, we also see a similar evolution towards data leverage instead of data management, application operations (services with DevOps) instead of just programming, and system architecture that encompasses not only hybrid solutions, but also includes up- and down-stream IT (e.g., suppliers and clients). 

This was last published in September 2014

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