Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts?

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published 2018-04-17 14:37:05

Digital disruption – a concept equally welcomed and feared in the workplace.

Anyone the ‘right’ side of, say, thirty, proudly answers to the name of ‘digital native’; those of us firmly focused on middle age like to think we have a perfectly balanced approach to the old and the new, and the fifty and overs are still prone to buttonholing anyone who will listen with the mantra: “In my day…”

Funnily enough, folk of all ages seem rather more accepting of the new and revolutionary when it comes to their leisure time. Proud pensioners email friends and relatives, bank online and rely on mobile technology as much as anyone else. However, it’s the younger generation who are the driving force for digital change at work. They like using smart devices, full stop. They are not bothered that PCs and servers might be more fit for purpose in the work environment than tablets and touchscreens.

Faced with this digital revolution, what is a data centre manager to do? Come out of the computer room, waving the white flag of surrender? Ridicule the insecure, fragile devices and apps that might be suitable for ordering a pizza, but are rather less able to deal with business-critical data? Or adopt Aristotle’s Golden Mean – the middle way between two extremes?

One thing’s for sure - doing nothing is simply not an option.

Ignore the new technologies and ideas, and more and more of the workforce will ignore the data centre as the IT hub. Cloud and managed services can be accessed at the click of a button (or two), making the internal data centre and IT resource seem increasingly irrelevant to the go-getters, impatient of waiting weeks and months for a new application to be provisioned. Shadow IT hasn’t gone away, it’s just come out of the shadows and become a fact of work life for many.

Embrace the new technologies without kicking the tyres and carrying out some serious due diligence (after all, the very employees who are rushing headlong to deploy digital everything will be the same people who blame the data centre personnel when things start to go wrong), and you’re storing up a different set of problems.

So, the ancient Greek’s approach bears close scrutiny.

Few existing organisations have the financial, human, or time-related resources necessary to turn digital overnight. This means that plans must be put in place as to how, what, when and where to start upgrading, migrating, and policing the data centre and related IT infrastructure.

Maybe the biggest change in approach required is the importance of working back from each business function to understand what technology solution(s) best meet its needs; as opposed to the more traditional approach of more or less refreshing infrastructure, regardless of any specific application benefits, every x years.

Along the way, the tail will have to stop wagging the dog. Yes, data centre buildings and the storage, servers, and networks that they contain and with which they connect in the wider world, are very, very important, but they wouldn’t be required if there were no applications!

A big culture change, maybe, but vitally important if the old and the new are to meet at the Golden Mean.

So, application A is not that critical – it can easily be run on existing infrastructure. Or, it might be worth investigating outsourcing it to a Cloud or managed services provider.

Application B is the lifeblood of the company – it needs the very fastest, most resilient, most modern infrastructure available. Milliseconds mean money. Time to investigate new ideas and technologies? And even for a mission-critical app, it might be worth investigating the Cloud or managed service option. After all, these organisations live and breathe data centres and IT 24x7x365, and you could just obtain access to infrastructure that simply couldn’t be afforded on-premise.

Want to manage the overall IT infrastructure – which will almost certainly be some kind of a hybrid model (hybrid in terms of a mixture of on-premise, multi-Cloud and managed services; and hybrid in terms of centralised and remote resources)? Time to investigate orchestration and automation. There’s no point in creating a fast, agile, flexible IT environment if people pondering provisioning decisions becomes a major bottleneck.

No. Robots, artificial intelligence, IoT and the like cannot be shut away in the data centre cleaning cupboard. They have to be considered as a likely essential part of the ultimate, digital IT landscape.

Data centre managers actually face a relatively simple choice. They can close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears and whistle loudly, or recognise the outstanding opportunity they have to transform themselves into the major business enablers of every organisation, blending the old and the new, the tried and trusted with the disruptive and innovative.

Scenario 1

“We need to build a new website for a marketing campaign, set to go live in three days’ time to coincide with the predicted sweltering weekend. We could ask John in the data centre, but he’ll just shake his head and tell us it can’t be done. Here’s my credit card, go online and see what you can find by lunchtime, then we can start building the website this afternoon.”

Scenario 2

“We need to build a new website for a marketing campaign, set to go live in three days’ time to coincide with the predicted sweltering weekend. We need to talk to John in the data centre asap. He’ll tell us if he can provision something for us by lunchtime, or he’ll find us a solution from our Cloud or managed services provider in the same timeframe. Either way, we’ll be building the website this afternoon.”

Adopt the Scenario 2 approach and, who knows, you might get a pay rise and even a new job title: Infrastructure Evangelist, Data Champion, or, following our vaguely Greek theme, how about Technology Titan?

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