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Fast IT Workshop #4 – Innovative Infrastructure Management: Challenges and Opportunities

As business leaders navigate an increasingly complex world of connections, they need IT to provide a programmable infrastructure that can dynamically respond to their needs. This four-part blog series explores how responsive infrastructure helps IT leaders succeed. The first post in this series, by Colin Kincaid, discusses how Fast IT, a new model of IT, offers a broader focus of next-generation infrastructure. The second post in this series by Jim Grubb highlighted what IT leaders can do now to adopt a roadmap to Fast IT. The third post in this series by Doug Webster discusses how service providers specifically stand to benefit from Fast IT. Today’s post, the final in this four-part series, will explore how a Fast IT model can mitigate common infrastructure challenges. 

Many organizations realize that they need to change the way they are networking today and they are looking to SDN as the answer. However, the answer is broader than SDN.

To succeed in a new world of networking, organizations need a Fast IT model. In other words, an infrastructure that embraces technology transitions using programmability, automation, orchestration, virtualization, and security throughout.

As executives look to future-proof their business, many are facing innovation challenges in today’s infrastructure landscape. IT organizations are increasingly expected to drive revenue growth, reduce operational costs, mitigate security risk, and increase innovation – and do it all faster than ever before. Today, it is absolutely critical for IT to partner with the business and continue to be relevant to the organization’s growth.

So, what distinctive differentiation points of a next-generation infrastructure can mitigate these challenges? How can Fast IT help IT organizations deliver greater business value?

 

Challenge #1: Be More Agile

It’s becoming clear IT needs the ability to respond quickly. There is a growing proliferation of IT as a Service (ITaaS) applications that supplant traditional service models. And in today’s landscape, business agility requires application agility, so IT teams need to provision applications much faster. IT leaders are increasingly measured by their speed to deploy applications because this will determine how successful they are in new markets and new business models.

Chuck Crane, Lead Network and Security Architect at Acxiom, reinforced this point in the session “Fast Track to Fast IT: Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure” at Cisco Live San Francisco in May.

We face a lot of challenges because we’re a highly dynamic environment with a lot of new products rolling out a lot of the time, new customers coming online all of the time. We deal with over 20,000 network and security changes a year. It puts a lot of stress on the network staff, security staff, trying to keep up with all these changes. In addition, as we move more into the DevOps model, we’re being asked to deliver faster and faster. Instead of being able to deliver 2 months down the road, we’re now being asked to deliver in hours.

The bottom line is that IT must move faster to deliver faster. And a Fast IT model delivers this agility. All IT infrastructure is managed as a single entity, providing centralized control and easy access to policy changes. As I mentioned, Fast IT infrastructure is programmable, automated, orchestrated, and virtualized so it can respond dynamically to application requirements.

Challenge #2: Security

Security is more important than ever before. It’s especially important for organizations looking to software-defined networking (SDN) to bear in mind some basic security concerns. The growth and adoption of technology trends like cloud, mobility, Big Data, and social means every company is becoming a technology company. But it also means every organization has to vigilantly protect assets, investments, and end users.

With a Fast IT model, security extends beyond the network to data center endpoints, virtual infrastructure, and mobile. You can only secure what you can see, and when the problem is visible, it’s much easier to isolate and contain. Real-time visibility, analytics, and a centralized location for compliance across physical and virtual means organizations are protected before, during, and after an attack.  In a Fast IT model, the infrastructure acts as a sensor to identify security vulnerabilities and through simple policy interfaces automatically remediates those vulnerabilities.

Thanks to round-the-clock monitoring and analytics that turn intelligence into action, Fast IT security is automatic, and visibility is constant and holistic.

View Cisco Fast IT Executive Perspectives web home.

View Cisco Fast IT Executive Perspectives web home.

Challenge #3: Complexity

The increasing number of connections and growth in technology means everything is a lot more complex. It also means that individual domains like server, storage, security, and compute have become siloed, making it much more difficult for IT to be flexible, strategic, and innovative.

In addition, the reliance on manual processes to manage older IT systems within each domain requires a staggering amount of attention, budget, and resources – further taking away from strategies that could increase business value. And let’s not forget about time. With manual, inflexible systems, new capabilities take weeks or months.

A Fast IT strategy mitigates many of these concerns. It enables you to automatically and rapidly configure across domain—network, servers, storage, and security—helping you better support internal and external customers. Simplifying a complex infrastructure in this manner also means you can dedicate more resources to supporting new technologies and business-relevant projects.

Nicolas Jacques of the Open Daylight Project points out that many in the industry are trying to reduce this kind of complexity, as heard in this recording of the “Business Implications of Software-Defined Networking” panel discussion at Cisco Live Milan in January:

“The old world of ‘I can solve the problem in my own silo and not bother to think about everything else,’ today that just doesn’t fly for most customers and most perspectives. And so what’s great to see in terms of that is the entire industry coming together and saying, ‘We are going to explore a new way.’”

Challenge #4: Cost

It’s clear that the level of complexity is increasing. But this also means more IT leaders are under pressure to bring costs down while complexity is driving costs up. This means two things:

    1. More funding goes to maintaining current projects and less is available to new endeavors.
    2. This imbalance of resources negatively impacts flexibility and the ability to respond to business needs.

A Fast IT model combines existing infrastructures to support current functions cost-effectively while at the same time promoting new offerings and services.  A coherent approach to managing applications, middleware, and infrastructure means it becomes easier to use what is already in place and to increase business value and agility. With programmability, a key feature of a Fast IT model, software upgrades can be made to existing infrastructure, retaining investment protection. And automation means less manual tasks and more time or staff available to provide critical IT services to the business

Earlier I mentioned that IT must help drive innovation or run the risk of becoming obsolete. Here’s one way to help while also addressing the issue of budget: saving time, money, and resources with Fast IT means you can reallocate these funds to innovative projects.

A Solution to Enable Fast IT

Our approach to managing these challenges is to expand on SDN. These business imperatives must be addressed at an architectural framework level.

Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) enables Fast IT by providing a common policy-based operational model across the entire infrastructure, drastically reducing cost and complexity. For example, after the infrastructure is deployed and application patterns change, communication between the infrastructure and application layers will allow IT to build a more elastic infrastructure that is easier to manage. IT can deliver and manage network and infrastructure resources faster, presenting them to applications simply and securely.

This system-based approach simplifies, optimizes, and accelerates the entire application deployment lifecycle across data center, WAN, access, and cloud. In doing so, it empowers IT to be more responsive to changing business and application needs, enhancing agility and adding business value.

Opportunities for Those that Embrace Fast IT

Throughout this blog series, we’ve highlighted the potential for business transformation with Fast IT, a simple, smart, and secure IT model.

IT leaders who embrace this approach will provide value to the business and simplify existing initiatives. Even better, they will also capture more of their share of the $19 trillion in Internet of Everything (IoE) value at stake.

There’s never been a more important time than now for organizations to prepare for the future of IT. Every IT leader faces these challenges, but with a new model for IT, they can manage complexity, increase security, and drive innovation like never before.

For more about how to get your business ready for the #FutureOfIT, visit Cisco Executive Perspectives and Cisco Fast IT.

 

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