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Data Center and Cloud

The Winchester House

The Winchester House

A few months ago, after a my previous blogs discussing cloud computing adoption, I changed subject and authored a short series of articles around the challenges of adopting an architectural-led approach to your IT strategy in general, and data center design in particular.  (If you missed them, you can read them here: part 1,  part 2, and part 3).  The theme of these articles centered on the Winchester House in San Jose, California.

This house was extended by builder after builder, without any architectural blueprint.  Consequently, this house had 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. I then asserted that this analogy can apply to how IT architectures sometimes evolve -- bit by bit, without a formal blueprint or “grand master” plan, if you will.

Architecture-Led Facebook Poll Results 31 Jan 2012

Architecture-Led Facebook Poll Results 31 Jan 2012

I finished the series with a poll on our Cisco Data Center Facebook page - thanks to all of you who spotted the poll and took the time to respond.  The results were indeed interesting, so I thought I’d share back the results with you and discuss the implications.  As the diagram shows, you certainly told us loud and clear what your biggest issue was when it came to adopting an architectural-led approach to your IT strategy and data center design: “We don’t have clear enough business goals for IT” scooped 65% of your votes, way ahead of all other options (!!) -- so let’s discuss now in some more detail.

The Poll Question

Given the theme of my series of articles, I posed a straightforward question: “What is your biggest challenge in taking an ‘architectural-led’ approach to your data center design”. I listed a number of options, from which respondents could choose one response.

The Poll Results

Let me first caveat the results: this is not an authoritative study, nor a formal market research poll.  Facebook polls have clear limitations, however they do allow us to obtain quick, semi-objective insights.  And when direction in business (sometimes at least!) is decided upon personal opinion rather than upon objective data and analysis, the sample size of 72 respondents gives at least some backing to the conclusions.

Let’s look at the results in some more detail.  The following pie chart gives you a better idea of the distribution of poll results.

Architectural-Led IT - Facebook Poll Results in Detail

Architectural-Led IT - Facebook Poll Results in Detail

I posed 5 questions in this Facebook poll, as you can see, in the diagram, which I’ll list out here too:

  1. We don’t have clear enough business goals for IT
  2. We don’t have the right level of architectural expertise in our team
  3. We are too busy “fire fighting” today’s issues
  4. We have too many silos – network, storage and compute teams work independently
  5. We need independent experts to help guide us on the opportunities
I expected #3 “We are too busy ‘fire fighting’ today’s issues” to come out high, in fact to be honest I reckoned this would top the poll.  I expected more even distribution across the questions to be honest: I didn’t expect #4 “We have too many silos – network, storage and compute teams work independently” to be the lowest scope, and I didn’t quite expect #1 “We don’t have clear enough business goals for IT” to win by such a wide margin.
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What does this tell us?
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IT organizations often get a hard time from the business units they serve, from the other functions of the business.  Often IT organizations are criticised for being slow to respond to business needs, for delayed projects, and for spiralling costs.  This Facebook poll suggests that the business units themselves are somewhat to blame.  You told us loud and clear.  They don’t give you the right level of detailed requirements that lets you plan an IT architecture that will stand up the test of time.    This, incidentally, was also a complaint I heard from a customer last week during a “Discovery Workshop” we ran for them in the City of London financial district.  And, if I am honest :-), I know this complaint well from my earlier days in product management at Cisco -- in fact our engineering team used to give me this feedback too, which meant I had to dig deeper to understand customer needs!  So I can see the validity of this poll result.
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How can Cisco help you here?
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In our Cisco Architecture Services and the Cisco Cloud Strategy Service, we in Cisco Services often use a “Discovery Workshop” to understand the customer business problems and challenges.  This is usually a half or full day exercise involving the customer and Cisco Services domain experts.  On the customer side, we invite (as you’d expect) the IT or data center management, operations management and technical leads including enterprise architects. Crucially, as the above poll suggests we should, we always insist that the business stakeholders from the customer attend the workshop.  This is important.  They are key to giving both the customer’s technical team and the Cisco consultants the correct business direction and requirements, upon which a sound data center and IT strategy can be constructed.
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We know it’s often difficult to convince the business stakeholders to give up time for what we see as a “technical session”.  However we have observed in practice, time and time again, the value of their attendance.  Therefore we set our account managers (AMs) the challenge to ensure that the business sponsors do make time to attend (hey, our AMs have got to do real work sometime! :-) ).  This gives the collective customer/Cisco team the mandate and the input required to ensure that business requirements do not hinder development of an architectural-led approach to your IT strategy and data center design to support that strategy.
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So ….. if you also agree with the conclusions from my Facebook poll, and you need help to nail down the business requirements to ensure you devise a successful and future-proofed IT strategy ….. give your local Cisco Services account manager a call and they can help you with these challenges.  And if you don’t agree with my above logic, please do post a comment and we can debate!
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Finally … a big thanks those who took the time to respond to the original poll … it helps us help you!

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