How engineered infrastructure can accelerate digital transformation

A look at how engineered solutions are helping transform IT.


The topic of converged infrastructure has been red hot over the past five years. In fact, it's had such strong momentum that the tech industry evolved its products, and now we have "hyperconverged" systems. The drivers for converged and hyperconverged systems are that they can reduce the cost of hardware and the deployment time of the infrastructure. Given the tightening of the budget belt, along with ZK Research's estimate that 83% of IT spend is devoted to keeping the lights on, it makes sense that business would want to invest in these types of solutions (disclosure: I am an employee of ZK Research).

However, as powerful as converged systems are, the value is limited to reducing costs. As the industry moves out of this cost-reduction phase and into digitization, IT should be just as concerned with speed as it is with cost. The challenge for IT is that the complexity of deploying and managing infrastructure is only getting worse. The converged systems help a little bit, but the issues plaguing IT are not limited to infrastructure deployment. Digital transformation requires companies to move at cloud speed, and that can't be done if IT is constantly tuning and tweaking the software that attaches to the converged systems or the systems themselves to accommodate changes in the software.

A better approach for the digital era is something called "engineered infrastructure." Examples of engineered systems are Exadata and Exalogic from Oracle. The company brings together all of the hardware, software, and management tools to make that system perform optimally. The limitation behind Oracle's solutions is that it only runs that specific Oracle application.

The other solution provider that's made engineered solutions a reality is VCE, the former joint venture between VMware, Cisco, and EMC. VCE's flagship product, Vblock Systems, brings together the "full stack" or infrastructure required to deploy a private cloud – everything from the hypervisor down to the network. The company then tunes the infrastructure so the various products from the different vendors work together optimally. Vblock alone gets customers 90% of the way to deployment. To help with the other 10%, VCE offers specific configuration parameters for a number of common applications, and then provides a management tool to help with ongoing management.

Earlier this month, the company held an analyst event in conjunction with its customer advisory board. This gave me the opportunity to chat with many of VCE's top customers and understand how Vblock, an engineered solution, has allowed them to operate IT differently.

In every conversation there was a recognition that the role of IT is changing, and an apparent need to move at "cloud" speed and scale. IT has historically supported the business by enabling back-office processes, but now IT is being asked to lead organizations into the digital era. Natively digital companies that use IT to fuel innovation are disrupting business models faster than ever before, and traditional businesses need to do the same to keep up. Engineered systems play a key role in this transformation by enabling the following:

  • Faster time to market. With legacy infrastructure, the time to implement new applications or even new features in existing applications can be months. The use of Vblock reduced the time to under a month, sometimes just weeks. 
  • Reduction in operations costs. As I stated earlier, 83% of an organization's IT budget is used to maintain the status quo. Assuming there's no big increase in budgets coming, the only way to dedicate more budget to innovation is to cut that number. VCE's customers I interviewed told me the amount of budget required to maintain IT was cut by as much as half. This will also give IT individuals more time to spend on driving innovation.
  • Less planned and unplanned downtime. Despite the advances in automation, human error still remains the number one cause of unplanned downtime. The other factor is that changes in one part of the infrastructure, i.e. servers, adversely impacts another part, i.e. storage. The maintenance windows required to make changes to the infrastructure drive planned downtime. A VCE tests all components systemically, including software and firmware updates, eliminating component conflicts and almost all human error-related downtime, and shrinks the maintenance windows required to make changes.

The impact of digital transformation is just starting to be felt, and it is going to significantly change how IT operates. I understand that change is often hard for companies, but not changing will mean missed business opportunities and will put companies that try to operate under legacy models at a significant competitive disadvantage. Engineered systems provide customers with a path into the digital era without the associated risk of trying to build these systems internally. VCE pioneered this space, but I suspect we'll see other vendors follow this lead over the next several years.

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