IT infrastructure has rarely been a concern for CEOs. But the situation is changing as companies accelerate their digital transformation journey. Today it is relevant for CEOs to look at the direction taken for infrastructure technology in order to carry the load of their digital transformation.
Infrastructure has not been a CEO priority
The technology choices made for datacenter infrastructure have historically not been a CEO concern, since it was a very stable and predictable part of the business. In its simplest form, it was seen as a hardware investment with predictable cost serving internal needs.
But the role of infrastructure develops as businesses get further down their digital transformation journey. The infrastructure will service both customer-facing offerings and your internal needs. Also, your internal needs are shifting towards solutions that require agility, and there is an increased data dependency throughout Operations.
These shifts transform both your public and private cloud infrastructure into a mission-critical domain—a reality few businesses have realized today.
The new role of infrastructure as businesses go digital
The digital transformation agenda changes infrastructure needs on multiple fronts. In its simplest form, it can be divided into three main sectors.
The first is how to leverage the digital transformation potential to optimize internal processes. This is an area that IT was invented to address in the first place, but this area has just recently started accelerating due to a mix of your own IT and shadow IT. To fully succeed in this field, you need to blend the governance principles from your own IT with the agility of shadow IT—with the objective of reaching an agile and well-governed infrastructure. Special attention is required on how to create an infrastructure that supports your new needs for a collaborative and innovative working environment, not only the needs "at your desk."
Second, your infrastructure must support your customer-facing offerings—starting at the marketing end with your digital inbound-centric customer discovery journeys; serving the complete or partial digital offerings you sell to customers; and supporting the processes that measure the use of your offerings. All three represent new areas with increased demands for agility and availability as well as a leap forward in performance requirements.
Third, you need to secure the right support from your network and cloud partners to support your digital business transformation. As you change your agenda to become more digital, your partners need to support you in new ways. It might sound simple at first with a view of the world that says “pipes are always greater than you need” and “cloud infrastructure is cheap and improving faster than we need.” The point that is often missed is that it is not the old networks and IT infrastructure that will make your digital transformation successful. You need a powerful foundation that your digital business applications can stand firmly on top of. And connecting the two is becoming more complex rather than simpler.
Lessons from the "Super 7" providers grow in importance
The "Super 7" internet providers have raised the bar for internet efficiency. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent lead the infrastructure transformation agenda for the world. And large companies face two options for their infrastructure strategies: either embrace the architectures and operating models pioneered by the Super 7 in their own data centers or leverage the Super 7’s capabilities with a strong dependency on them as a new digital business partner.
The old option of relying on classic Model-(I)T infrastructure is not a viable option for most businesses. The difference in scale and cost is too big. But this is not all bad news. The technology and operational models pioneered by the Super 7 during this decade can be scaled down to smaller datacenters. With the growing demand to improve the user experience and the need to support the upstream measurement of the data explosion, all players strive for distributed datacenters.
A digital transformation will not succeed without a relentless focus on operational efficiencies. Take inspiration from the pioneers and don’t become satisfied until you operate in the same hemisphere of operational efficiency.
A hybrid reality between legacy and new
The near-term reality is not about either Model-(I)T or a more powerful infrastructure. It is about building the new and evolving the classic in parallel. A lot of the advantages gained with the new architectures are software enabled. This means your new operational models and software control can be applied on existing datacenter assets—a reality that greatly simplifies your journey.
And the involvement of a CEO might be limited to getting the right attention on the infrastructure choices made for the future.
6 perspectives CEOs should consider for their infrastructure technology agenda
- Optimize your infrastructure across IT, humans, and physical resources. A holistic digital-factory approach is the foundation for running an efficient digital business.
- Don't consider commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products as nirvana and the ultimate infrastructure target. A tick in the COTS hardware box is not enough any longer to ensure you are investing in the best infrastructure solutions.
- Consider your infrastructure a software play, tightly coupled to your digital agenda. A change in perspective is necessary to drive the new vision for your own datacenter and your public cloud partners.
- Revisit the role for fully depreciated cabinet, wiring, and HVAC assets. Most datacenters are trapped in a backward-compatibility dilemma to single-vendor racks, electrical wires, and a fixed or growing floor footprint.
- Implement new infrastructure metrics to move the focus from internal cost cutting to proactive development of the business. You need new metrics to steer towards that are designed to increase resource utilization and support your digital future—now!
- Blend cost cutting with centralization of IT infrastructure with a forward-leaning agenda. Distributed datacenters will play a role in delivering the right performance for your future products and services.
To explore these ideas more, please check out our e-book on how companies need to align supply with demand, and scale capacity, agility and datacenter economics accordingly:
Background photo by Peter Linder