NetApp and Mastering IT Economics

Last week was the third of our IFB2014 events (www.ifb2014.com) and following on from our events with IBM and Microsoft (BLOG posts here IBM and Microsoft) we where this time joined by Julian Wheeler, Senior Systems Engineering Manager at NetApp.

The topic for this event was to discuss the challenges facing CIO’s and IT strategists into todays changing and demanding business world.

But why ask a storage company to talk about this kind of stuff I hear you ask, are they not just interested in selling you spindles and capacity? it’s a great question, my experience with NetApp though is somewhat different, I think what NetApp realise is that their solution is part of a much bigger infrastructure and understanding the problems and solutions for disk storage alone really doesn’t bring any value to the infrastructure.

How does understanding just disks help a CIO deal with the needs for an agile and flexible infrastructure, help them to deal with the challenges and opportunities presented by cloud, help drive down maintenance cost and to deliver technology in a business that drives not only innovation but revenue generation.

Quite a set of challenges that we posed to Julian and NetApp, so how did he address them?

The focus was on two key things, understanding the economics of today IT challenges and then looking at the importance of an agile infrastructure in meeting those needs.

Economics of IT

What is the economic reality for the heads of IT today, for lots of them it is that in their organisation IT can no longer be seen as a cost centre it also has to be part of the revenue generating activities of the business.

Again one of our favourite sets of figures came up;

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We’ve seen these figures constantly through our events and the problem presented by only 16% of the average IT budget available to help the organisation innovate and create new revenue streams while the vast majority of it is either keeping the lights on or supporting and maintaining existing business applications.

The two colourful arrows on that graphic look at the main aims for any CIO,

how do we change where the IT budget is spent so that we can increase the value of technology into the business

Easy enough surely!

What’s the goal then?

  • Save Money – reduce operational expenditure
  • Make Money – by helping to bring application and products to market quicker
  • Avoid Losing Money – no disruption for upgrades, replacements and scale

It’s not all economic challenges though, business IT is also getting squeezed from the new kid on the block “Shadow IT”.

What’s Shadow IT? – this is where new IT systems are brought into a company outside of the control of the CIO and his internal IT teams. For example a companies team of developers spins up some Azure servers for a short term project, uses them for 4-5weeks and then turns them off again, buys them on a credit card, sticks them through on expenses and IT never even know its happened!

But why would that happen? normally because corporate IT has traditionally been nowhere near flexible enough to meet those quick turn around demands.

The Importance of Agile Data Infrastructure

let’s ask that question again, what is Shadow IT and why does it exist, well if we look at how the world has changed, people are increasingly just looking to consume IT, in the end as Julian explained, all that a business is really interested in is the application and the data, everything else is just infrastructure and nobody really cares!

A bit like the analogy of when you drive down the road, you don’t consider who laid the road, what kind of tarmac they use or who maintains it, you just want the infrastructure to get you from A to B.

This is where Julian explained how NetApp’s strategic direction is all about meeting these challenges head on, looking at how IT departments move from builders and operators to people who broker services to a business and how it shouldn’t matter where those services come from, be it on-premise, cloud based or some hybrid of the two it should just be services delivered as and when needed by the business.

so what key things do NetApp see in delivering an agile infrastructure?

  • Automation – automation, automation, automation, key to agility is to automate those repetitive tasks, so that provisioning of services can be so much quicker
  • Efficiency – reduce operational expenditure, lower your data footprint and of course allow for quick and dynamic changes across an organisations infrastructure on demand.
  • Non Disruptive Operations – today in many organisations the idea of taking down systems for maintenance is one that is no longer acceptable and to be honest shouldn’t be needed in any enterprise infrastructure, however NetApp are taking this further with the ability to scale and replace entire storage infrastructures complete non disruptively a key factor in the agile infrastructure needed by todays modern business world.

All of these things are key components for meeting these needs and are the driving force behind NetApp developments over the last 5 years and have culminated in their Clustered Data OnTap operating system (Check out Clustered OnTap here), designed completely to meet the agility goals of todays and future infrastructures.

Why else is this agility critical? The one other key IT trend that is affecting how people do business today is of course our old friend the Cloud and it is this technology where perhaps some of NetApp’s most innovative thinking is.

As infrastructure changes, there is no doubt that the principles of a good cloud provider are as key to your internal IT as they are to any cloud services company, having a service catalogue, orchestration and automation, non disruptive operations and efficiency are just key regardless, However I believe the ability to seamlessly integrate between your own infrastructure and a cloud infrastructure as and when needed is strategically one of the most important things that anyone designing an IT solution to meet future business needs, will need to understand.

NetApp have made huge investments in ensuring that their storage operating system Data OnTap is at home installed in a cloud environment as it is stored on the more traditional hardware controllers deployed in your datacentre.

The focus by NetApp in this area has brought real innovation, with the ability to have complete transparency of connectivity between clouds, be this private, service provider or hyperscala cloud providers, imagine the ability for you to seamlessly move your data between these platforms, allowing you to use massive scale compute power as and when needed while your data remains under your control.

Initiatives like the NetApp Private Cloud solutions for Amazon and Azure (read more here) are truly industry leading and in my opinion are absolutely the next evolution of the corporate data centre and when you couple this with announcements such as the recent BT secure link to Azure, then the flexibility that private storage and public compute gives is going to be the next big thing that CIO’s will be considering as they plan their future infrastructures.

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What did we learn from Julian during his session?

  • Economics of IT are changing rapidly – IT can no longer be a cost centre only in a business, it has to be delivering both value and revenue.
  • Technology needs to be agile – we have to be able to deliver services and data quickly and flexibly to our users.
  • Non Disruptive – we need an infrastructure that regardless of requirement, be that maintenance, upgrade or increase in capability does not disrupt the business to do it.

Personally I think NetApp’s innovative view of the world is really valuable when it comes to designing infrastructure and it was the key reason why we wanted them to share their views with our delegates and I hope my potted version of events conveys that to you.

Julian did leave us with one last challenge as he wrapped up, he posed the following questions;

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A good question to ponder!

If you want to find out a little more about NetApp then feel free to have a look at our NetApp Microsite which is here.

Or if you want to contact me please do.

Next up I’ll be reviewing our recent CIO forum and giving you a taster of what the challenges of a modern CIO are and how they look to deal with them.

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