“What is the ‘instant-on’ enterprise?” someone asked me recently. For many, the answer to that question is fuelled more by hype than benefit. An on-premises, hosted or mixed virtualised approach to data centres can sit at the heart of the answer.
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Data centre professionals who track vendor-promotion themes will come across this instant-on technology concept at some stage in the next twelve months. For me, the key question is whether an organisation can find business benefits from this vision.
In conversations about instant-on enterprises, three common themes seem to dominate the discussions.
First, many IT directors and their teams argue that their infrastructures already meet much of the instant-on criteria. While some others argue that they’ve gone as far as they can with the budgets assigned to them.
For example, for manufacturing companies operating 24/7 with computerised systems, instant-on technology is not a new concept. Virtualising the back end infrastructure to give it better resiliency against server or storage failure is sensible and, for many, very much a project of the past.
The same company’s staff daily log into the systems they are required to use. No waiting around there; it is instant. Furthermore, remote or branch employees can access applications and data whenever they want to. Generally speaking, IT teams will argue their current IT infrastructures are instantly on.
The second theme is that the instant-on enterprise vision has clearly defined features allowing organisations to further benefit from their IT investments. Or at least that’s the message from vendors that seek to benefit from increased revenues generated from the required purchases by companies to reach this nirvana.
Presenting at board level the vision of an instant-on enterprise will immediately prompt a chief executive to ask what return he will see and will prompt a chief financial officer to ask how much. For an IT pro, the justification for the instant-on enterprise must have technical, operational and business benefits to claim a “must have” project status.
The fact that an instant-on approach to IT is just a “nicer place to be in” overlooks the business requirement. Chief execs want direct and increasing returns from expenditure to meet the profit objectives for themselves and the company’s shareholders. Virtualisation can set excellent benchmarks for return on investment which the chief exec will remember.
Security fears of instant-on enterprise
The third theme is that creating the instant-on enterprise infrastructure as portrayed by the vendor community largely overlooks the effect it all has on applications, security and compliance. None of these challenges are insurmountable but do require additional investment over and above the instant on infrastructure itself.
I sat with a client watching Citrix demonstrate how a document created in Microsoft Word on a PC could be instantly opened and edited on an iPad and then an iPhone. The client in question whispered in my ear, “It doesn’t stop some idiot leaving their device on a train or in a taxi, does it?”
His point, when questioned further, was that even if a secure connection was put in place that met his security requirements; giving users such instant access to data and applications is fraught with difficulties that IT must plan for.
So is the instant-on enterprise a future we all must head towards, or is it a clever marketing ploy which positions vendors as thought leaders? For me, the answer depends on the type of business considering it and the business objectives at board level.
Instant-on enterprise: technical innovation or marketing-speak
Today I have access to my email and office voicemail from both my BlackBerry and iPhone and access to key business applications 24/7. This is not unique, and millions of users across the world enjoy the same benefits. For me, instant on is not a new technical concept but a marketing crystalisation of an existing approach. This isn’t the first time vendor thought-leadership has been driven more by marketing than a technical innovation.
The consumerisation of IT was the credible mantra of many vendors including Hewlett-Packard Co. When the company decided recently to remove the HP TouchPad device and to potentially sell its PC business, it brought into question how committed HP was to this as a strategy in the first place. It appears now to be more committed to what happens within the data centre than in the devices that connect to it. That in itself is a good strategy because an increased focus has a better chance of bringing and furthering excellence.
Creating a stack offering hardware, operating system, applications and management tools that are all developed together brings compatibility benefits. The first presentations by Oracle Corp. after its purchase of Sun acutely highlighted these potential benefits.
IT professionals have been discussing the bring-your-own-computer (BYOC) scheme for a long time. That concept started as a more effective way of giving employees the IT device of their choice to provide greater productivity and morale. Connecting to a private or public cloud via a secure Internet connection removes the security headache. If the vision of the consumerisation of IT is to be believed, BYOC sits neatly in the strategy.
The reality for many organisations is that introducing BYOC is fraught with difficulty at too many levels. It gives users flexibility and can bring improvements in productivity and morale, but there are technical and operational costs to achieving this. When those costs are balanced out, chief execs may not see the return they’re looking for from any required investment. If they did then BYOC would be the preferred way for users to acquire their devices. But today it is not.
For the CIO, the discussions, webinars and PowerPoint presentations that will be available to expand the knowledge of these thought leadership concepts will be interesting. The principle of having a panoramic view of options to assist with building a focused and individual IT strategy is a sensible approach.
Some elements of an instant-on enterprise will prompt changes in the strategic and tactical approaches of many companies. But the concept of instant-on enterprises, just like other concepts (“consumerisation of IT” and “BYOC”), is a thought-leadership idea for consideration, not a technical Holy Grail.
Andrew Cross is the sales director at reseller Sol-Tec and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK.