Feature

Think data, not equipment (Storage Bin 2.0)

If IT can put itself back into a position of treating every decision from the perspective of the data itself, our effectiveness could be optimized.

Recently, I had a discussion with a senior operations manager at a major European telecommunications company. We were discussing his experience with a backup consolidation effort (hundreds of remote data sites) that leveraged virtual tape library (VTL) systems with data deduplication technologies. What I learned was entirely unexpected.

It seems that not only was the company able to realize the assumed and obvious benefits one would expect in this situation, but because the new process was so much more efficient, it altered the way the company fundamentally viewed all of the processes and services IT delivered to the business. There were substantial gains in far-reaching areas -- from an ability to significantly improve their IT delivery capabilities -- and across regulatory bodies and borders to security, privacy and beyond. Because of the success of what began as a fairly simple consolidation exercise in the area of backup and recovery, the company is now aggressively investigating other opportunities to improve efficiency and gain even greater benefits. The firm has enjoyed so much success, so quickly, that even in this economy they're accelerating the consolidation of several European data centers. If all of this were happening because of something as seemingly simple and benign as backup

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consolidation, I was interested in what other value could be derived by pushing overall efficiency improvement through other mainstream consolidation efforts.

It's interesting when you hear of people spending money in times like these, rather than talking about doing more with less. Either they're insane or they're able to find real value and return on their efforts. No one spends money today just because they can.

My European friends found such value because by solving their original problem, the solution created so many obvious downstream benefits that it became impossible to ignore. Consolidation began for one reason, but the results crossed so many parts of IT that it was impossible not to see them.

About the same time this effort began, I went to China and spoke at a "Green IT" conference in Beijing. I talked about how "green" is simply a modern metaphor for "efficient," only instead of operating efficiency it focuses on power, cooling and space efficiency. What makes us bad green citizens is the same thing that makes us bad service providers: 50 years of having way too much stuff. You don't need to hold an advanced degree to realize that more stuff is way harder to deal with than less stuff.

After my speech, I spoke with a senior official responsible for China's global economic analysis who was curious as to why I spent so much of my presentation on process vs. technology. My answer was simple: History has left us to contend with the sins of our past. Process can be changed even when economics don't allow us to change technology as easily. "But why do you focus on the symptom [meaning infrastructure] before the cause [meaning data]?" he asked. It was a great question. Most commercial Chinese IT operations are relatively new and unburdened by many of the long-term historical issues

Europe and North America face. China's relatively new venture into the world of IT means they haven't faced the infrastructure "sprawl" issue others have spent 50 years dealing with and can stay focused on the "cause," which is the data itself. Most of us aren't so lucky. We have to deal with a lot of history and the problems past decisions have placed on current realities.

This realization helped me see the current situation more clearly. If IT can put itself back into a position of treating every decision from the perspective of the data itself -- and not simply the previously established infrastructure -- our effectiveness could be optimized.

Global macro-economic conditions are spotlighting IT operations and capital spending in both a positive and a negative light. The downside is that harsh economic realities force business cost centers such as IT to support continued demands and data growth with flat/diminishing budgets and IT resources. The positive aspect is that it also forces IT to become creative and even challenges IT shops to re-evaluate everything they may have taken for granted during economic boom times. Investigating and implementing efficiency improvements across the organization is always good, but they're often overlooked or patently ignored in good economic times. Prosperity, unfortunately, has a tendency to relax our standards.

BIO: Steve Duplessie is founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. See his blog at http://esgblogs.typepad.com/steves_it_rants/.

This was first published in March 2009

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