Silo can you go?

siloSomething caught my attention this week and got me thinking about why Enterprise IT accepts doing things that we take for granted as consumers… let me explain..

Last week I watched a show on Sky called O.A.P Internet Virgins – the premise, a couple of young “Internet Sensations” work with pensioners to show them how to use modern technology.

The first episode focused on 84 yr. old George, he had been an entertainer all of his life and still loved nothing more than, as part of the 4 piece act “The Nostalgics”, entertaining “The Old Folk” in the local care homes. Georges life had sadly changed though, his wife had become ill and he was now her full time carer.

George wasn’t completely new to technology, he had a PC and a printer and was using technology to help him learn to do things he hadn’t ever done before. He’d learned how to “Google” things, like recipes, the problem was he couldn’t get his printer to work – so he would then write them down… his technology was too hard and all silo’d and of course  no one had ever showed him how to break out of these silos and see what other things technology could do.

However, to the rescue came our “internet sensations” who present George with internet_heroesan iPad and a wireless printer – they show him how to use it, how easy it is to find things he needs, how easy it is to print, they introduced him to iTunes and he introduced them to a whole new world of music and heah presto George is the pin up boy for silver surfers everywhere.

Those who know me, know I’m no Apple fan boy, but, what Apple have done over the last few years, is revolutionise the user experience, by providing a simple technology interface and supporting fabric that just works, “George,this icon that says mail, that just does mail, this one says calendar and it just does calendar…etc” – and it was this simplicity that opened up a whole new world to George, culminating in him learning how to shop online, this was a game changer for him.

It really struck a chord with me how the simplicity of technology with a fabric that allows a simple integration of data, and a smooth transition between devices was key to him – this fabric, without spoiling the show (as I do recommend if you are in tech, you really should give this a watch)genuinely revolutionised his life, freeing up time for him so that he could return to doing things he loved, getting the very most from his free time. This is of course what good tech should do, the right tech, deployed in the right way should change for the better the way we do things.

This made me think, If we take this stuff for granted in our consumer lives then why in the enterprise, especially in the way we handle data, don’t we do this?

Part of the challenge is, it’s not really that easy is it?

For example if your making a data storage decision tomorrow, what do you consider ?, type of storage, type of disks, where we store it, on premise, in the cloud, a bit of both and what about where we get it from, current supplier, established enterprise player or even one of those super sexy new kids on the block… and we make that decision every time, it’s how we end up with a mish mash of solutions, and when we get that, the ability for us to tie this fabric together into something cohesive for our business becomes really difficult.

Is it a problem worth solving though?

Today’s business needs to be flexible to deal with the rapidly changing environments we operate in and one of the ways we do this is to utilise technology trends to our advantage, but often what makes that tricky is how do we get our data quickly and effectively aligned to a new technology. Look at cloud compute, the ability to quickly scale up our computing capabilities as and when we need them, is really attractive to many, but how the heck do we get our data there and is it safe and secure when we do… and when we are finished how do we get it back?

I mentioned in a previous post about choosing technology partners and how important it is, well when I was on my recent partner tour, one of the really compelling conversations I had came from the NetApp partner academy about their Data Fabric strategy.

For those who don’t know NetApp, they are an enterprise storage company and have been supplying storage solutions since 1992. But what NetApp have always done differently is focus on the software stack that sits on their storage hardware, the software that controls the data on and off the hardware, the integration with enterprise applications and management tools. In fact NetApp’s software focus has often lead to them describing themselves as a software company.

This software focus over the last 20 years or so, is paying great benefit for those looking at needing a more flexible and adaptive infrastructure today. How so ?.

NetApp’s main platform is known as FAS, with a range of hardware controllers and disk solutions, however what make a FAS what it is, is not the hardware platform but its storage operating system Data OnTap.

The benefit for us as users of this technology, is that OnTap as a bit of software, can be extracted from its hardware platform and put into a host of other places.

For example, you can install that software in a virtual machine (OnTap Edge), if you can install it in a VM, you can then install it into a VM powered by a cloud provider (Cloud OnTap), you can even pop a hardware controller in front of non NetApp storage, install OnTap on that and heah presto you turn your existing storage into something that can be part of this fabric.

So What?

Well if you can install this same operating environment into all of these locations then you can not only store your data in all of these places and seamlessly move between them, you can also use the same management and integration tools regardless of the location of the data.

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Doing this means I don’t even have to worry particularly about how it’s done, because my front end device, running OnTap can present that data in a way I can understand, regardless of the underlying technology.

Now that is an extremely powerful capability, if you think about it, when was the last time you worried about accessing data on your iTunes account, you just logged into one of your devices and there it was, because it worried about how to present the data to you, you just used it, quickly and efficiently.

As you can see in the above graphic, the NetApp data fabric eco system doesn’t end at OnTap, with a couple of other solutions in there to provide more scale and flexibility, including object storage and cloud backup appliances, but for me the flexibility of OnTap and the ability to present it in many different ways has significant business value, maybe not quite the simplicity that George had access to, but a huge leap forward from the silo’d approach that many of us find ourselves trying to navigate through. Imagine if you could have total flexibility in where you housed your data with the ability to move it to different technology platforms, even those that today we don’t know of, relatively simply and seamlessly, it has revolutionary potential.

When it comes to considering your next strategic IT decision, think about does the technology or the provider I’m considering silo my solution off from everything else or do they have a broader strategy that provides me with the flexibility I need to meet business challenges for today and the future.

Maybe consider, will your next technology decision make Georges life easier?

For more about NetApp Data Fabric click here

For more about OAP Internet Virgins click here

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