Published: 10 Oct 2006
I have seen the end ...
... and it's all about infrastructure--and business users couldn't care less.
It came to me in a dream, but it might as well have been during some kind of peyote ritual. I get it now; I know where we have to go. Forget the application world for a minute or, as I like to call it, the users. I want to talk about IT as the owners of infrastructure and the keepers of data.
There are two absolutes. On one end of the world are users who connect to our universe via an application interface. The only thing users care about is their application. The only thing that application cares about is the data it requires to perform its function. Data is at the other end of the world. Everything in the middle is infrastructure, which is our problem.
We're all willing to accept the fact that while some of us like infrastructure, and the acronym-filled language of infrastructure that we communicate with, users couldn't care less. We should also accept that users hate us because of it. To a user, infrastructure is never good, it's only bad. It's the excuse as to why they can't do their jobs, send their e-mail or do whatever other task they want to do. Infrastructure is like Latin to my seventh grader; it won't hurt him to know about it, it might even be good for him, but he would rather chew tinfoil than spend time learning it.
So for IT to ever be more than the equivalent of old Aunt Edna (who gets a place at the table "just because"), IT has to change its mission and become invisible. If users/business units didn't have to know that IT existed, life would be better for everyone. IT needs to become the Secret Service: critically important, but rarely noticed.
That means two things. First, the industry needs to make infrastructures capable of becoming invisible. That's hard, but necessary. IT needs a way to have everything connected to everything, and to understand and control the delivery of data to applications on a dynamic, liquid basis. In other words, I don't want users to ever know that we moved their application from server A to virtual server B; from array 9 to virtual arrays 11, 16 and 42; from file system Foo on NAS box X-Ray to virtual file system Bar spread over 13 physical and four virtual machines; and from Fibre Channel to Ethernet--and back again--all while they were working away, completely oblivious to the massive undertaking that just occurred.
The business unit created the requirement and handed it to IT, and that's where it ended. IT does all the adds, deletes, replacing, migrating, virtualizing, protecting and pushing without any negative impact on anything else that's going on and in real-time. The business unit, and the users within it, spends all of its time doing business things and not worrying about infrastructure issues. IT is the deliverer of data.
Second, IT is also the controller of data. The business unit/app/user creates data, but IT has to make that data useful beyond its original intent. IT has to put rich context about the data in place so it can repurpose that data later on. IT has to understand the data so it can enforce rules on it, enable other business units to benefit from it and be ready to deliver value to a mission that hasn't even been thought up yet. It has to classify and categorize, search and destroy, protect and serve.
IT doesn't need to care what the data means in its current state, as the application and the business unit already handle that. What it needs to understand is the context about the data so it can extract value from it in a future state.
To support the business, we have to be a business. We've created our own problems by not looking out far enough. We are tactical in IT. We have to deliver IT as a service, so that all of the actions we take--right or wrong--have no negative impact on the user constituencies we serve. We also have to realize that our positive achievements will go unnoticed by 99% of the world. The 1% who do know, however, will be the ones making sure that you get to sit at the head table far from Aunt Edna.