To balance the higher cost of value-added services, vendors and their IT customers are reaching into a familiar bag of tricks: automation, but on a much bigger scale. Automation will involve smarts about not only systems and security management, but also about types of queries, anticipated user and data volumes, and process management. While automation might help create the "black box" some organizations wish their IT resources could become, it could also be where you'll find the strongest link between IT and business objectives. Automation will be essential for implementing business rules, process management, and model-driven knowledge discovery to deliver value from increasingly complex, global operations.
It's ironic that to better align business and IT some organizations will decide upon the ultimate separation of the two: They'll contract with a major vendor to deliver "utility" computing. IBM's On Demand computing, HP's Adaptive Enterprise, and equivalent solutions from Computer Associates, Sun Microsystems, and other providers are competing for contracts with organizations that have decided that they're not in the IT business. HP aims to "automate the dynamic link between business and IT," according to its literature. The vendors' financial services will arrange pay-as-you-go or other forms of leasing and subscription contracts.
HP and its competitors view automation as critical to enabling business flexibility, essentially so that systems can respond more quickly to change, deliver information more rapidly, and establish consistency, quality, and availability. If a business requires a certain response rate from its e-commerce applications running on Oracle, for example, HP's Adaptive Enterprise solutions (including OpenView) will use automated intelligence to let the system figure out how to make it happen.
Virtualization is also an essential concept of utility computing, as it has been for nearly all modern innovations in software, servers, and storage. Down the road, virtualization will lift organizations above the entire IT function. We're not there yet, but in talking with HP, IBM, and others, the idea is that the IT utility will respond directly to business objectives, which may be expressed through models, rules engines, process management systems, portals, and so forth.
HP and IBM talk about "self-healing" autonomic computing in HP's case, that gives the system the smarts to immediately replace bad CPUs or other components. But the big idea is to establish some logical plane above the integrated network of systems that allows for swapping in and out underlying components. Grid computing, which has practically become synonymous with utility computing, depends on virtualization. HP envisions blades that can power up with your "personality" so that desktop systems needn't be replaced; this notion could apply to larger components on the grid as well.
RFID: Data in Motion
China has announced that it will give its citizens RFID-enabled identification cards that will combine banking and credit information, driver's license, and possibly even health data into one card. TechWeb News reported recently that Mexico's attorney general and 160 of his employees working at the Mexican anti-crime information center have RFID chips implanted in their arms. These news items signal a trend that could eventually find billions of people wearing RFID chips. In other words, not only will RFID implementation generate tremendous data volumes: Whether on palettes or people, RFID data sources will also be moving around, gathering together and coming apart, and variously playing roles in multiple processes.
RFID presents a form-factor challenge to software vendors; they must put the right applications and data on the tags to enable both real-time and sophisticated trend analysis based on the data. The speed, size, and variety of data flowing through systems using RFID will also force user organizations to climb up to a higher level of abstraction, where they can gain the big picture that allows them to understand business networks of processes and derive knowledge from data generated by those processes.
Will RFID prove to be the "tipping point" that pushes organizations unable to marshal the talent and funds to act alone toward utility computing? We shall see; however, it's clear we're at the beginning of some big changes. Vendor consolidation, SOA and the Internet, and RFID are three concurrent factors reshaping enterprise computing, forcing organizations to evolve toward a higher state of intelligence or risk suffering the fate of the Neanderthals.
David Stodder [[email protected]] is Editorial Director and Editor-In-Chief of Intelligent Enterprise.