Wednesday, November 7, 2007

CIO Dialogue - Notes from the Real World

I felt the need to share the following conversation I recently had with the VP of Enterprise Operations for a major healthcare provider. On one hand, the conversation sounded like every stereotype I've heard in trade rags... except it's true. So read this, but be sure to get to the punch line at the end.

He's been in his job for 18 months, and is just now seeming to get his hand around turning the battleship. Which, I might add, "owns one of every imaginable platform and software type" and has perhaps 3,000+ apps on 12,000-15,000 servers, maybe 30%-40% is development. He's got lots of AIX and lots of Sun, but ultimately a mix of other vendors too.

When asked exactly what he owns, he says he doesn't really know... but they're planning a CMDB proje
ct soon. Also, they're quickly running out of data center space, and are pushing 95% of maximum UPS power in most locations. He's thrown-down the gauntlet and halted all new server purchases -- in favor of initiating a virtualization project (which, I might add, is getting upwards of 20:1 consolidation, although he knows that high ratio won't last). He's a risk-taker because he has to be.

So I asked him point-blank, what does he need to make this work. Without a flinch (or a smile) he said "Process and Automation." Process, a la ITIL, and automation -- both of the Run-Book style, as well as the operational style. " If I could have the automation vision that IBM was hawking a few years ago, I'd be thrilled. But it's still vapor".

The good news is that he's closely teamed with his Facilities manager to help him cope with power, real estate and cooling. The bad news is that the Facilities guy is also at wit's-end.

The punchline: This real-life vignette tells me that the traditional IT model is really broken. How come IT -- with all of its computers -- is actually the least automated and efficient arm of the company? I recently read a report from the Uptime Institute which talked about the Economic Meltdown of Moore's Law -- literally, for every $1 of compute asset, it currently costs $1.80 operate it; by 2009, electricity alone will cost triple ($3) what the box cost. What's wrong with this picture?

I know that my VP friend is not alone. But when will the treadmill of IT-being-slave-to-the-hardware end? I'd like to think that automation, active asset management, and the drive toward greater environmental efficiency will begin to influence vendors and managers alike.

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