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The Winchester House and the Strategic Imperative for Architectural-led IT Evolution and Transformation – Part 1

September 7, 2011
at 3:01 am PST

What has the Winchester house in San Jose, California – a massive mansion, reputedly haunted (!), which has 65 doors to blank walls, 13 abandoned staircases, 24 skylights into floors, was 38 years in construction, and cost $71 million  -  got to do with your IT architecture, with how your network, data center and video architectural evolution should be considered?

The Winchester House - San Jose, California

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know that I’m focused on evolving our portfolio of data center, unified computing and cloud enablement services. Recently I’ve been working on evolving our approach to customer architectural workshops and services, where we help customers take an architectural-led approach to not only data center transformation, but also across their entire IT architecture. And the architectural challenges of the Winchester house reminded me of the point-product approaches that many of our competitors promote, that ultimately in most cases lead to long term IT architecture challenges for their customers.

The Winchester House Analogy

There is a sad story behind the Winchester House, however at the end of the day, it was continuously extended and extended by builder after builder.  The key point? -- There was no overall architect for the building, a major omission in terms of getting any major building project completed.  As a result, this house has many doors opening into blank walls, abandoned staircases, and other “features” -- and it was in construction for year after year, with point additions compounding the problems!

This analogy can apply to how IT architectures sometimes evolve.  If you focus on the smaller activities and changes, yet have no overall view of the future target architecture, you may find your IT architecture will stall, perhaps at best delay some of your business initiatives, perhaps worst case fail, with major business impacts such as lost revenue, failure to meet quarterly sales forecasts, stock market impacts and so on.  For example,  Information Week, earlier this year, asserts that “56% of enterprises in North America and 30% in Europe don’t have a good disaster recovery plan” and that “Downtime in a data center can cost an average of $505,500 per incident”. A true architectural-led approach will consider, and develop upfront solutions to, such challenges -- and indeed disaster recovery is core to our professional services offerings in Cisco.

Why a Point-Product Approach is not Architectural-Led

Across the industry, I still see a number of our competitors taking point-product approaches, and some are struggling to adjust to the need for an architectural approach.  As time marches on, I’m seeing more examples of the consequences of not taking an architectural-led approach to IT architectural evolution – examples where invariably the companies concerned are struggling to support the evolving needs of their business with their historical approach to their IT architecture.

I will split my discussion here into probably 3 parts (so watch out for subsequent  parts over the next week or two!). First I’ll discuss examples that show why the varying demands upon corporate IT are placing challenges not only on the data center, but also on the LAN and WAN networks, your video architecture and more. Then I’ll explore our “architectural-led” approach more, giving you my view of what this means.  And of course I’ll mention how our services can help you achieve the benefits of the architectural approach.

Across our customer base, our Cisco Data Center Services team is seeing tremendous opportunity and significant challenges in the ways that organizations of all sizes are approaching their provision of IT services.  From cost reduction exercises leading to significant data center transformation, to the challenges of leveraging the latest “any device, any place, any content” opportunities such as the Apple iPhone/iPad and our built-for-business tablet, the Cisco Cius -- from the opportunities afforded by cloud computing, to availability of new business models to facilitate new technology adoption -- customers have tremendous opportunities to transform the way in which corporate and public sector users leverage and consume IT.

The Architectural Impact -- Some Examples

Let’s consider some examples. CIOs are rapidly assessing the opportunities of Software as a Sevice (SaaS) business models, popularized by Salesforce.com and Cisco Webex.  When visiting customers and partners, I’ve noticed not only early adopters, but also company CEOs already using tablets as a replacement for the paper notebook and laptop computer.  Financial traders on the move are demanding that the iPad be an entry point to their trading applications.  You can even troubleshoot your Cisco network and data centers with the Cisco Technical Services iPad application and other smartphone apps!  Organizations – some knowingly, many unknowingly (!), are leveraging “compute as a service” offerings from Amazon and also from more traditional service providers such as Verizon to augment their internal IT resources.  And yet other organizations are looking to pool internal resources into a shared or “private” cloud, which can be leveraged and shared between different organisation business units, who currently operate in silos from an IT perspective.

Our team in Cisco Data Center Services is helping IT organizations across the world more comprehensively re-evaluate their IT strategies in response to the SaaS and IaaS variants of cloud computing, and in particular are considering which application workloads could be safely and securely transitioned to these new cloud models.  Commodity applications such as Compute as a Service need to be considered alongside more complex solutions such as Virtual Desktop Infrastucture (VDI).  Similarly, transitions to SaaS solutions can introduce a new set of LAN, WAN and application challenges that the networks, wireless infrastructure, data center and IT organization may not be equipped nor designed to deal with.

Cisco Architectural Services

These are the types of topics we investigate with our customers who take up our architectural services, ensuring that their IT strategy evolves and transforms to support their major business initiatives.  Given your current pressures, Cisco Services can help you find time to avoid the “patch it”, point product and temporary fix approach and focus on what you want to do – build an architecture that supports your future business initiatives, avoiding the “Winchester House scenario”.  We can start with a 1 day or even 1/2 day workshop, so that you can quickly see the value our team can add to your strategy.  More on this topic in part 2 next week!  In the meantime, what is the best way we can help you in this area? We’re keen to hear what problems we can help you solve!

PS: I published additional parts to this blog …. see part 2, part 3, and a sequel discussing a related customer poll.

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