Optimizing Enterprise IT

Six strategies for reducing costs and ensuring business value

Industry surveys have shown the average enterprise spends up to 80 percent of its budget on maintaining existing applications and infrastructure (September 17, 2003). These costs are continuing to grow. The industry is aware of this challenge, and is working to deliver solutions that automate many critical and time-consuming tasks. Yet every IT organization must also address the major sources of cost and complexity in their unique environment. By optimizing infrastructure and operations, you can spend less on maintaining the status quo, and more on new projects and initiatives that deliver direct value to your business.

This article identifies six key strategies for IT optimization. Together, they can put your organization on a path toward continual optimization that delivers better and more measurable business value and lower total costs.

figure 1

1. Compare your IT spending with industry norms
Though every business has unique requirements and challenges, IT benchmarking can provide new insights and an essential reality check on internal assumptions. Initial efforts can focus on comparing costs and service levels, yet it is also important to understand operational practices and trends. Monitoring the approaches of other IT organizations can help you find the right balance between cutting edge innovation and proven strategies.

2. Move toward better alignment with business goals
IT is maturing, and a new level of business sophistication is required. Technical decision-makers must work closely with their financial and business counterparts to accurately model, measure and understand the cost, value and risk associated with all major IT investments. Formal methodologies, such as the Balanced Scorecard, Total Quality Management (TQM) and Six Sigma, are bringing new rigor to this task. Such tools can provide a quantitative business context to help you reduce the risk inherent in subjective decision making.

Another critical step is to establish service delivery as a fundamental IT metric (Figure 2). This establishes a quantitative link between key business processes, the IT services they depend on, and the underlying infrastructure of platforms, applications, networks, etc. It helps to bridge the traditional communications gap between IT and business decision-makers, providing a common framework for understanding IT expenditures and the business value they deliver.

figure 2

3. Move toward enterprise standardization
The traditional “stovepipe” approach to deploying and managing major applications remains one of the leading sources of IT cost and complexity. In a worst case scenario, every application is optimized for performance and TCO as an isolated entity, with no regard for consistency. The result is a patchwork of management tools, consoles and databases, complex integration, diverse processes and skill sets, and poor resource utilization. The solution is to promote cross-organizational communication and to establish enterprise-wide standards for IT infrastructure and processes. Clear standards provide development teams with a menu of optimized design patterns, platforms, configurations, architectures, tools and services that reduce the need to reinvent the wheel. They also provide a simpler and more consistent environment for consolidating systems, management tools and processes.

The first step is to take stock of your current environment. How many different databases, operating systems and backup and recovery solutions are actually deployed? How many custom applications, management tools, drivers and interfaces? What development tools are used, and how often are design elements reused to accelerate development and increase consistency?

The answers to such questions provide the foundation for moving toward a simpler and more standardized environment, with a limited number of design patterns and consistent architectures, configurations, components and services.

4. Emphasize manageability in all new investments
Establish a centralized IT team that focuses strictly on infrastructure simplicity, consistency and manageability. These considerations should become an integral part of new solution development. In simplest terms, every departure from enterprise-standard technologies and processes carries a higher price tag, not only during development and deployment, but over the entire lifecycle of the solution. Business and IT decision makers must work together to define clear standards and justify exceptions based on cost breakdowns and business value.

5. Deploy manageable platforms based on open standards
Industry standards provide the foundation for interoperability and consolidated management in multi-vendor environments. They also provide the foundation on which most vendors build their next-generation solutions, so they increase your ability to take advantage of future innovations without disruptive overhauls.

It is not within the scope of this article to discuss individual platform standards. However, at a minimum, consider each of the following when purchasing new platforms and applications: IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) for server management; DMI (Desktop Management Interface) and ASF (Alert Standard Format) for client management; PXE (Pre-boot Execution Environment), EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) and ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) for all platforms; and WBEM (Web-Based Enterprise Management), which includes CIM (Common Information Model), for enterprise management.

You should also track developing standards, particularly those that will emerge from the Server Management Working Group of the DMTF (Distributed Management Task Force). The work of this group can be expected to provide an important breakthrough for enterprise infrastructure management, greatly improving cross-vendor interoperability for core management functions.

6. Automate, consolidate and innovate
Comprehensive data center automation is clearly not yet an option, but targeted solutions can deliver substantial benefits in a standards-based IT environment. For example, today’s best management applications can filter millions of logged events, providing automated responses and/or actionable alerts with suggested remediation. This can improve service levels while dramatically reducing staffing costs. Critical advances have also been made in automated network-based tools for asset management, provisioning, change management, software distribution, backup and recovery and troubleshooting.

In many cases, these applications are best deployed following, or in conjunction with, projects designed to consolidate infrastructure and/or operations. The combination of platform consolidation and management automation will often deliver better value than either approach independently, providing faster ROI and better project justification.

When planning such upgrades, there are many options to choose from. Industry-standard solutions now include single platforms with up to 128 processors, enterprise blade frames, and clusters with over a 1,000 nodes. Many of these systems also support advanced capabilities that used to be found only in proprietary mainframes, including workload management and virtualization tools that enable dynamic control of platform resources.

Optimizing Individual Projects

In applying the six recommendations outlined above, it is important to consider every project not as an isolated undertaking, but as an integral part of your larger business and IT environment. Invest the time and resources up front to understand business, service delivery and operational needs, and use that information to create detailed engineering requirements. Involve all affected parties at the inception of each project, including business units, financial experts, and IT development, infrastructure, and support staff.

This comprehensive approach can be daunting at first, since it is slower and more costly than organizing a bare bones business and technical team to develop the solution in isolation. Yet the advantages can be immense. On a project-by-project basis, you can expect better buy-in from affected parties, smoother implementation, and a far better chance of achieving real and measurable business value over the life of the solution.

On a larger scale, this strategy can help you move incrementally and cost-effectively toward a simpler and more consistent IT environment based on industry-standard building blocks. As better platforms, applications and management solutions continue to emerge, you will be better positioned to chose and integrate those that deliver the best total value for your business.

Allyson Klein is Initiative Marketing Manager, Enterprise Platform Group, at Intel Corporation.

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