Published: 19 Mar 2014
Over the years, the term "information systems" lost ground, until now, when most everyone calls our job "IT."
Information technology is not a terrible term per se, but it is misleading. "Technology" suggests things, such as computers, routers, storage arrays and bits of software. As such, we've come to think about technology as product: something we can buy and put to use. We often undervalue the technique meaning of the term: the skills, knowledge and how-to.
For years, that imbalance didn't much matter. Product evolution raced along, rapid advances were largely driven by the frenetic pace of Moore's Law: Faster! Better! Cheaper! all the time.
But the better the underlying goods and tools become, the less product advances have driven information technology strategy. Virtualized data centers, service-oriented architectures, Internet and cloud computing, mobile, pervasive embedded sensors, big data -- all those things require tons of products. But more than the gear, they're about new and different ways of deploying and using IT. They offer and require different ways of working.
Enterprises and IT organizations haven't always kept up. The scale-out revolution doubled and redoubled in IT for a few decades and now it rules the roost. Scale-out everything is conceptually quite different from the enterprise data center strategy of old. It forces us to deal with different issues -- disconnections, transient failures, network intrusions, latency, multitenancy, rolling upgrades and eventual consistency, to name a few.
To be really good at operating a modern set of applications and services, one has to consider and rework almost every part of IT: how gear is procured and operated, how failures are managed, how your people are organized and trained, what kind of software is necessary, how software is tested and deployed and what metrics to track. There's a sea change in how we should be doing IT. If you think modern infrastructure stops at the gear, you're missing more than half the truth.
Rethinking IT strategy
Modern infrastructure supports operating IT with speed, scale, efficiency, reliability, agility and other qualities that would have been unimaginable or even practically impossible a few years ago yet are now demanded. That infrastructure must support today's devices, services and uses -- Web, mobile, cloud, embedded, etc.
Enterprises haven't been entirely asleep at the wheel. We've gradually adopted more agile methodologies, service-oriented architectures, shared services organizations, virtualization, DevOps and other updates to the IT craft. But rarely have enterprises put them together in a coordinated way that reflects how enormously the demands on IT and the product capabilities have changed.
In contrast, go into shops that already operate at hyperscale -- say a cloud or high-performance computing shop -- and you'll see many of those techniques in use. They are agile, service-oriented, virtualized, and DevOps personified. The new how is part of how they operate -- they just can't get the major quality of service improvements they needed without them. Sometimes, gear is the latest and greatest, but often not because even the shiniest new gear requires advances in technique to render its full value.
So, consider your IT organization: Is it organized, operated, and advanced in a way that improves the how and not just the what? Does your data center strategy genuinely advance scale, speed, efficiency, reliability, agility and other key metrics on a regular basis? Does IT advance at a pace worthy of the improvements seen in the technology and equipment side?
If not, it's time to rethink and remodel what's important, what adds value, and how it should proceed. Modern infrastructure isn't just physical, it's also the organizational structures and approaches needed to get today's job done.