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Ayn Rand, IT silos and software-defined data centers

Why do IT silos still exist?

By Zeus Kerravala on Tue, 09/18/12 - 9:52am.

Who is John Galt? That’s the famous opening line from the literacy classic, Atlas Shrugged, by one of my all-time favorite authors, Ayn Rand. If you’ve read the book, you understand the meaning of the question. If you haven’t read it, I’ll explain. The question is meant to be a sarcastic phrase used to respond to questions that have no answers, or questions whose answers have no point. For example, "Why is America so fascinated by reality TV?": "Why do my kids’ hockey bags smell so bad?"; "Why won’t the Obama administration allow for a one-time cash repatriation holiday?"; and "Why can’t the city of Cleveland ever have a decent sports team?" The answer is a simple "Who is John Galt?"

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I bring this up for a couple of reasons. First, part two of the movie comes out in October (I guess another question might be, "why do all great books make terrible movies?") and this past VMworld in San Francisco has made me ponder another unanswerable question – "Why do IT silos still exist?"

Anyone who attended this year’s VMworld understands that the main theme that permeated through the entire event was the concept of a software-defined data center. The vision is a data center where all of the IT resources are virtualized but have a level of fluidity to them so the resources can be migrated easily to whatever application or business service needs them based on business policy. VMware’s vision, like many other vendors, is to have a centralized point of control to manage the data center.

Delivering on the software-defined data center requires more than just good technology from VMware, though; it requires a tearing down of the wall that separates the current IT silos. Delivering a high-quality, cloud-enabled user experience requires greater teamwork across all of the various IT silos. Legacy methods in which each group manages its own stuff and just hopes everything works together no longer scales.

So back to the John Galt question; why do IT silos still exist? Is it really as simple as the fact that IT departments are resistant to change and don’t want to collaborate? That might be part of the issue, but I do believe that the management tools were not designed for cross-IT functionality. Prior to VMworld, a joint ZK Research/Xangati survey was run to understand the challenges in managing virtual environments. We asked respondents how strongly they would agree with this statement: "To manage the cloud effectively we need to enrich our monitoring portfolio with a solution that can be leveraged collaboratively by the server, network and storage teams."

A whopping 91.7% of the respondents either agreed (62.1%) or strongly agreed (29.6%). I wasn’t surprised that the majority of respondents felt this way, but I was surprised at how overwhelming the response was to this question. In fact, of the remaining 8.3%, none "strongly disagreed," meaning cross-IT management tools are still a big problem. This means that if companies really want to try and create cross-IT collaboration, they’ll either have to cobble several tools together or custom develop something. That might work for the 8.3% of the respondents that don’t feel this is a problem, but it might notfor the other 90%+.

I’ve written, talked and blogged about this before, but it’s worth reiterating. The main culprit as to why these tools don’t exist is really just evolution. The legacy tools that IT came to know and rely on for years just were not meant for a dynamic, virtual IT model. That’s why there has been such a rise in smaller companies having success in providing tools for virtual environments. Xangati, with which I co-ran this survey, had an absolutely packed booth at VMworld. So did companies such as Splunk, ExtraHop and Gigamon. It’s not a perfect world, as all of these companies provide visibility at different levels, but a tool like Xangati can provide a much-needed single pane of glass for cross-IT collaboration.

The software-defined data center is certainly a great vision, but IT leaders do need to take a serious look at creating a more collaborative IT environment, and that starts with management tools. Dagny Taggart eventually found John Galt and IT leaders can find the tools to enable IT collaboration.

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