Part 1 developed a more detailed understanding of N1 Grid solutions. It provided examples of how implementing N1 Grid architectures uses familiar design fundamentals. Part 2 introduced the importance of architecture as a central theme. The architecture serves to organize and illustrate the movement from an environment of server-centric applications to an environment of network-centric services. That architecture is the focus of Part 3, beginning with the concept of strategic flexibility.
Before defining this concept, it is important to review the importance of architecture to the goal of achieving the vision of the N1 Grid. The N1 Grid vision is not a replacement for doing good architectural design work. The N1 Grid vision is best realized by using architecture as the link between business decisions and the physical environment on which people, process, and technology decisions are carried out. This view highlights the value that an architectural approach has to deliver. The N1 Grid architecture ensures the solution is focused on the business problem.
The development of the N1 Grid vision, architecture, and products is deeply rooted in identifying the business problems to be solved. Extensive interviews with IT managers and operators consistently showed that cost and complexity ruled the data center floor. Specifically, those interviews revealed the following metrics:
There is a clear opportunity to improve the business of IT. The N1 Grid vision helps the IT organization to operate more efficiently, and it can directly influence the business as a whole. The business gains new opportunities when IT can deliver services in an efficient and highly dynamic way.
Any architectural solution must first solve the basic IT problems of cost and complexity. Then, it must strive to develop business and IT linkage to its fullest extent. That is the central theme of the architectural solution presented here, and it is articulated in the concept of strategic flexibility.
Strategic flexibility is about what can be achieved in architecting the service-centric data center. It is best explained through example. In many IT organizations, there are silos of systems dedicated to supporting specific tasks. For example, an industrial company might use one set of systems to support an online ordering function and another set of systems to support a billing system. In a typical business cycle, over 50 percent of its orders are received in the first month of each quarter. Because of that, the ordered systems are sized to support that peak. On the billing side, bills are run during the last two weeks of each quarter. The billing systems are sized to accommodate their peak. It would be much more efficient for the online ordering and billing systems to share the same infrastructure to maximize the investment. The load peaks certainly support this. Unfortunately, the general maturity of IT does not.
Strategic flexibility solves this problem. It would enable the linkage between the business need be it ordering or billing and the most efficient use of IT infrastructure to support that need. With a standards-based, virtualized, and automatically provisioned infrastructure, and a virtualized and automatically deployed services layer, the data center can support business needs on demand.
Another opportunity for strategic flexibility is in improving the life cycle flow of business services. Today, applications are brought to life in a silo of the IT organization called the development silo. Usually, the development silo is a distinct organization within the IT organization, and the work is done on dedicated systems. When an application is complete and it is ready to move into production, it is tested. After testing, the application or service moves into production. Because the application or service has unique infrastructure and application requirements, each and every move requires a new and complete system installation from the ground up. Strategic flexibility can leverage an automated infrastructure and application layer to dynamically create the environments needed to bring an application to life, saving tremendous amounts of time. Additionally, the code could be seamlessly moved among the environments (FIGURE 7-1). The quicker time to delivery and the reduced demand on operational resources is a direct IT cost saving. In addition, using a development and test suite that can exactly duplicate the production environment results in a significant decrease in service outages caused by untested configurations. Thus, strategic flexibility addresses the costs and complexity of IT, and it delivers value to the business by vastly improving overall service availability.
Figure 7-1. Life Cycle of Business Services
Achieving strategic flexibility is the goal of the architectural process. Because of the importance of strategic flexibility to the overall architectural discussion, it is meaningful to explicitly define strategic flexibility as:
This definition focuses on two important aspects: the inherent business benefit of strategic flexibility and traditional IT efficiency goals. The combination of those two elements is central to the idea of strategic flexibility.
It is best to look at the second part of the definition first. The second half calls for the delivery of a just-in-time IT infrastructure that maximizes utilization of assets and minimizes cost and effort. The critical-to-quality factors (CTQs) for N1 Grid solutions require utilization improvement, decreased cost, and decreased complexity. Strategic flexibility focuses on these core issues. The first part of the definition is focused on deliverables that are beyond the traditional IT deliverables. That focus, expressed as a service-centric, systemic, quality-driven, just-in-time IT infrastructure, is an explicit challenge to deliver strategic business value. This business value is very important to the concept of strategic flexibility.
Linking core IT efficiency with strategic business value provides new and interesting opportunities. The industry typically drives advances into the IT organization on a nearly ongoing basis. While gradual improvements in efficiency and functionality are always appreciated by the business, they are rarely compelling business events. Strategic flexibility changes that. Strategic flexibility goes beyond traditional IT value to create strategic business value.
This discussion of the definition of strategic flexibility raises some questions. What does strategic business value mean? How does the linkage between IT efficiency and strategic business value really work? Does operational maturity still matter? All of these are good questions and each deserves an in-depth discussion.