Do You Really Know Your Infrastructure?

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You've got to know what you've got before you know how best to use it.

That's the advice being doled out by various vendors at CDXpo Tuesday in Las Vegas. Evangelists from Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Computer Associates argued over what to call this drilled-down notion of IT/business alignment -- On-Demand Computing, Utility Computing, e-Business On Demand. But what they generally agree on is that it's time for IT managers to get to know their infrastructure better. Once they do that, they can set it up to better meet the company's business needs.

''It's about understanding business processes and understanding the network infrastructure, and then understanding how to make them work together,'' says Tony Siress, a senior director at Sun. ''You're paying 100% of the costs of managing your infrastructure whether you're using 80 percent of it or 15 percent of it. The cost doesn't change based on the utilization, so you want to make sure you're utilizing as much as you can.''

Siress explains that in order to make sure a company's business processes and its infrastructure are working in harmony together -- instead of against each other -- managers need to take a close look at both sides of the situation.

First off, IT managers need to figure out exactly what is running on their network, what is running at or over capacity, and what is running way under capacity. What is the infrastructure's baseline? Is it generally at 25% of bandwidth capacity, except for one or two days a month? Is the data center baselining at 15 percent of capacity? Is one critical application being taxed too heavily?

''People don't know what they have in their infrastructure and they don't know what they're paying for it,'' says Siress. ''During the big run on IT a few years ago, everyone was buying. No one was pricing. Now the economy has tipped and executives need to know what they're getting on their investment. Why should they give IT another dollar?''

Siress says being able to plot out the infrastructure and it's capacity is an integral step to figuring out how much it's costing the company.

Once you know what the baseline demand on the infrastructure is, you know what the infrastructure has to deliver on a daily basis. You make sure your infrastructure can deliver that baseline. If you have a seasonal peak -- say a holiday rush for an e-tailer -- then you can plan to lease that extra capacity or outsource the demand.

''If you have family coming to visit for a week, you don't buy a bus, do you?'' asks Siress. ''You might rent a bus that week.

''It's about applying the right mix, and owning your baseline'' he adds. ''And you need to understand your business policies and processes. If you don't know when you're going to have that extra demand, you won't know how to provision for it, and then you'll end up spending too much or you won't be able to deliver when the demand comes in.''

Ric Telford, a director at IBM, says it sounds complicated but it all comes down to improving customer service.

''You need to be able to make intelligent decisions about where your company's needs are going to be,'' says Telford. ''You have to think through your business needs and then set up IT to better support them.''

Sun's Siress says it's a matter of eliminating excess capacity and then managing those spikes in demand. Think of the infrastructure, not as individual islands of technology -- the data center, bandwidth, applications. Instead, think of it as an overall pool of resources.

''Instead of administering a server, I'm administering a service,'' says Siress.

The benefit of administering that service is to be able to sit down and view the infrastructure and the business needs in their entireties.

For instance, say a company's infrastructure runs under capacity most of the month. Then at the end of the month, there's a major spike in demand on it because monthly financials are being calculated, inventory is being done, HR taxes are being figured and sent in and the sales department is issuing its forecasting reports. With a full view of this, managers can shift the business processes, moving the due dates of the sales forecasts and inventories, to level out the demand on the infrastructure.

''It's increasing responsiveness to business,'' says David Hochhauser of Computer Associates. ''Find the pain points. Where are your biggest costs? Where are your sticking points? Find that and you'll find out where to start. This is the holy grail of what we really want to get to.''

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