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Top initiatives in IT operations for 2014-2015

Planning and Implementation Roadmap for the Year

In conversations with I.T. executives over the past couple months, I found the I.T. “projects” and initiatives that seemed to float to the top of all of the organizations fell into a handful of core initiatives. Most of the initiatives were aimed at updating technologies to improve I.T. efficiencies, lower costs, and optimize operations. In no particular order, the initiatives are as follows:

Moving Basic Workloads to the Cloud: It was no surprise that most organizations have been evaluating and are preparing to migrate the organization’s basic functions (like email and file sharing) to the cloud. With cloud providers offering competitively priced solutions and have now proven their reliability, performance, and scalability to the cloud, there’s been a critical mass movement to cloud technologies. The big winner in this category has been Microsoft with their Office 365 solution that effectively includes Microsoft Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, among other of their latest 2013 technologies hosted in the cloud.

Organization’s push to Office 365 in the cloud has addressed getting organizations off older versions of Exchange (ie: Exchange 2007, Exchange 2010), supporting various endpoints (like Macs, iPads, Android, etc), including Social Enterprise Networking (Yammer), consolidating Web Conferencing (with Lync Online), and simplifying cloud-based file storage (with SharePoint Online and OneDrive).

Advancing Software Defined Datacenter Initiatives: Interestingly, this is a new category that popped up this year, but has hit the budgets and initiatives for organizations looking to simplify datacenter tasks through automated tasks. The Software Defined Datacenter model takes on a variety of operational facets from the scripted deployment of virtual machine templates, to the extension of virtual network segmentation, to the dynamic provisioning of storage, to the automated onboarding of virtual desktops for enduser VDI access. With templates and scripted processes built on the “backend” of a datacenter, organizations are able to extend provisioning and deprovisioning tasks to endusers, who may be I.T. personnel, may be line of business information managers, or could be directly to business endusers.

Microsoft has been a huge player in this arena with their System Center 2012 R2 component Orchestrator along with Virtual Machine Manager for VM creation, Windows Azure Pack for hosted cloud operations, Operations Manager for capacity planning management, Configuration Manager for endpoint management, and App Controller for private and public cloud VM management. End of the day, these automated tasks have been able to cut down provisioning time from 2-3 days down to under 60-minutes, onboarding time from 4-days down to 8 minutes, management tasks from 83 minutes of manual intervention time down to 4-1/2 minutes of automated cycles, and cost decreases in compute and storage down by over $150,000 a month.

Addressing Windows Server 2003 End of Life: While we’ve spent the past year or two getting our desktops and laptops off of Windows XP before the April/2014 end of life of the client software, it was only a matter of time before Windows Server 2003 goes end of life, which is July/2015. Good and bad, the good part is at least Windows Server 2003 isn’t on every desktop in our enterprises, the bad part is that many organizations are still on Active Directory 2003 and need to upgrade their AD, as well as many workloads like Web services, DNS, DHCP, Certifacte of Authority (CA) servers, and even line of business applications are still running on Windows 2003 servers throughout an enterprise.

Just like with the end of life of Windows XP, once the end of life period hits, Microsoft will NOT release patches and updates for the operating system. That creates a signficiant security hole for enterprises as they need to start planning NOW to put a roadmap together to methodically perform updates before the Summer of 2015.

Supporting Multiplatform Mobile Endpoints: No doubt in enterprieses these days, Windows systems only make up a portion of the endpoints with Apple Macs showing up in the enterprise but also now with heavy use of mobile phones and tablets like iPads, iPhones, Samsung phones and tablets, Android devices, etc throughout organizations. And these endpoint devices don’t just simply grab emails, but are now devices where users are synchronizing data for offline editing, running core line of business applications, and storing regulated data and confidential content.

As such, enterprises are continuing to implement endpoint management solutions, but a shift this year is moving away from the lockdown management of endpoints to the enablement of endpoints as valuable enduser devices. Organiztions are no longer blocking access to content, but working to contain and protect sensitive business information, effectively providing employees the access to information that they want and need to access in a safe and secure manner

As part of this process, Data Leakage Protection (DLP) technology like what Microsoft recently released in their Azure Rights Management enforces data encryption policies on content tied to user Active Directory accounts so that instead of the organization chasing devices, the organization merely protects the data content. That way content can be stored on any of a number of managed or unmanaged devices, uploaded to public cloud file storage systems (ie: Box, DropBox, OneDrive, etc) yet maintain encryption based on policies. If the employee leaves the organization, any information sitiing on devices or file storage systems is inaccessible to the former employee because their Active Directory credentials used to decrypt the content is no longer valid. This is a major shift away from device management and heavy handed device management, to data management and employee enablement strategies being undertaken by enterprises.

Single Sign-on / Identity: Seems that as organizations are extending their applications beyond their traditional datacenters to include cloud properties like Box.net, Salesforce.com, Office 365, Workday, etc, that there's more and more of a need to integrate the traditional authoratative Active Directory to applications both on-premise and in the cloud.  The authentication process can be integrated with something as simple (and free) as Microsoft's Active Directory Federation Service (ADFS), or organizations may choose to create a Web-portal access to applications or direct application access integrating Okta, Ping, or OneLogin.

The overall goal is one that provides a single use identity so that if an employee is terminated and their Active Directory credentials are disabled or removed, that the former employee no longer has access to other integrated applications and the associated data with those applications.

Enterprise Social Enablement for Departmental Support Services: For years, “help desk” or “incident management” was relegated to an I.T. department tasks, however in this age of cloud and the empowerment of departments throughout the enterprise, organizations have found that “I.T. support” is less and less that of helping a user figure out how to write an email or open a file attachment, to specific line of business usage of enterprise applications and workgroup tools. I.T. is not always the best source for answers how an engineering application, financial analysis tool, business intelligence data metric modeling application, or client relationship data mining application works.

More and more questions are being answered by the line of business specialists and experts themselves, and as such, a rise in the use of Enterprise Social collaboration tools for department support services are taking root within organizations to facilitate peer to peer knowledge sharing and communications. Tools such as Yammer or Chatter are being adopted for better communications throughout the enterprise.

Updating Voice / Telphony Systems: Many organizations with older phone and telephony systems are finding the need to update their voice communications systems to enable users to take and make calls from any of their myriad of endpoint devices. While Voice over IP (VoIP) has been around for a while, new solutions are helping enterprises integrate voice communications along with traditional email communications systems, but also with instant messaging, Web conferencing, Video conferencing, and enterprise social integration.

Organizations already using Microsoft Outlook for email have found Microsoft’s Lync communications system an easy solution for voice and data integration since the licensing for Lync is commonly already owned (in part or in full) by enterprises, and there’s minimal effort required to “integrate” Microsoft’s email system with Microsoft’s data and voice tools.

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These are the major initiatives that have floated to the top of most enterprises for the year, with the key focus this year of simplifying I.T., decreasing the number of individual license agreements and contracts an organization has, and optimizing I.T. efficiencies.

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