IT is fixated on endless technology upgrades but fails to adequately address the human side of the equation. The schism between application developers and infrastructure managers is reflected in many current controversial topics, and IT infrastructure must radically change its course to avoid it being left in the dust.
IT folks don’t “get” cloud computing. The repackaged virtual infrastructure they call “cloud” is not the least bit interesting to developers who have experienced web-style development platforms. The next generation of applications are written with scale-out and highly abstracted infrastructure in mind. Virtual machine clusters, virtual I/O, and federated storage are fine for running scale-out apps, but they are not the synonymous of the new IT world. Indeed, advanced server and storage hardware is not even required – the largest clouds already in use rely on plain commodity systems.
Many of us are so in love with big iron that we fail to grasp the power of simple “what works” solutions. Techies criticize products like the Apple iPhone and iPad for being feature-poor even as the real world embraces the ease at which they can accomplish tasks in these “gilded cages.” Single-tasking is a virtue to most computer users, and consumers are happy to pay for media, games, and applications as long as the store is easy to use. The people IT derisively calls “end users” are similar: They want to trade, heal, build, compose, or discuss, not to use this or that software program or computer system.
Fix It or Lose It
The topic of business/IT alignment has been discussed to death, but I’m not sure the message has really gotten through. We should focus on getting IT out of the way and really meeting the needs of the business, not helping business people understand IT. Fixing the process means changing everything we do, starting with our focus on better/faster/cheaper technologies.
I have frequently used storage utilization as an example of this problem. The fact that our storage systems cannot be designed, purchased, and configured in a way that reflects the changing needs of the business is a symptom of decades of misplaced focus, not mere technical deficiencies. Why do so few enterprise systems treat data as flexible objects rather than files on disks? Business people don’t care about directories, let alone SCSI LUNs, because tree-oriented filesystems are outdated and artificial constructs that no longer match the way they work. Most end users already rely on search engines, not directory trees, to locate spreadsheets, pictures, and documents. So let’s shift the focus of enterprise storage to providing more-flexible data repositories, not better SAN and NAS.
The same can be said of other parts of IT. Instead of recreating the mainframe for yesterday’s applications, let’s embrace web-scale technologies and build real cloud platforms to serve the new applications being written today. Instead of creating virtual everything to fake every system component into thinking it’s dealing with yesterday’s technology, let’s sit down with application developers and business people, hat in hand, and offer to build what they really want. That’s really fixing the process of IT.