When it comes to your IT infrastructure, visibility matters

Delivering visibility across your increasingly distributed and complex IT infrastructure isn’t easy, yet it can help everyone get on the same page and aligned with business objectives and user needs.

4 visibility
Thinkstock

CIOs everywhere are faced with a common question: do we have the right infrastructure for our business today and tomorrow? The question is complicated since there is no right answer – even though the major public cloud providers would say otherwise.

Most large companies have hybrid infrastructures, comprising internal data centers, private clouds and at least one public cloud service. Increasingly, companies are using more than one public cloud service, as each one has something different to offer and prices are always changing. These choices provide needed flexibility and the potential for carving out the perfect environment for a company’s multifarious needs.

Unfortunately, many IT departments don’t know exactly what’s going on beneath the software and services that run the business. IT leaders aren’t always sure if they have too much or too few resources, nor are they confident in the optimal environment for each application. To make matters worse, nearly one in three organizations does not calculate cloud computing ROI, according to ISACA Research. Flying in the dark with no instrumentation has never been a smart strategy. It’s time to talk about visibility.

Visibility means different things to everyone, but it entails having the right tools in place that allow somebody to see a snapshot of the environment at any given moment. With full IT asset and resource visibility, including visibility into cloud resource consumption and spend, a CIO has detailed information to help with three core IT activities:

  • Creating new computing environments (or adapting old ones) to rapidly meet the needs of the business;
  • Delivering services with great economics;
  • Maintaining excellent reliability, security and stability for users.

The what, where and how of infrastructure

When it comes to IT infrastructure, visibility means understanding what compute resources are being used, by whom, and for what purpose and at what level of demand. CIOs must be able to manage spend and minimize waste. Research has shown that 80% of on-premises environments are overprovisioned, and that companies are under-utilizing 35% of cloud resources.

In recent years, there have been many factors working against the pressing need for visibility. The modern IT environment is much more decentralized and distributed than it was five or 10 years ago, due to globalization, shadow (or hidden) IT and cloud computing. These trends bring benefits of productivity and flexibility, demystifying technology for the business. Yet CIOs can’t easily manage risk nor identify opportunities to help the business in this new world. Facebook and Twitter’s recent struggles with data privacy bring the visibility problem into sharp relief. All companies need a thorough understanding of where data is stored and how it is being managed and protected according to corporate policies, regulations and customer expectations.

Visibility’s benefits: costs, planning and customers

Let’s look at a fairly common example of how a lack of visibility into infrastructure hurts a business. Many companies are evaluating workloads, which they can move to the cloud to save money, get better scalability and/or free-up the time of IT staff. If you don’t know that a particular workload’s infrastructure components are only at 30% utilization and running on five year-old hardware, moving to the cloud without changing any of the configurations probably won’t lower costs. You’re just shifting an inefficient environment from your data center to another one.

With better insight, however, you can set up a cloud environment that’s fully efficient and optimized for business requirements. Cloud resources allow for the ultimate granularity in this regard. Let’s say an accounting application is used mostly at the end of the month. During that time, instances can be expanded for full demand, and then scaled back down when the next month begins. Visibility is also an advantage for maintaining multi-cloud environments. With knowledge of how two cloud providers compare on pricing, reliability and other factors for an application’s requirements, the IT department can make data-backed decisions when choosing the provider.

Visibility may seem like an IT consideration, but it can also be critical for managing customer relationships and experience. An application that has intermittent timeouts frustrates users. It may also affect customers, if employees can’t process an order or answer a question expediently. Further, knowing who is using what and where gives IT an understanding of what changes could improve customer engagement. There are times when the only difference between two competing products is performance or price. If designing the wrong environment to host your service means that the competition is beating you on those parameters, you’ll never know the reason for customer defection – unless you have full visibility.

In short, visibility helps IT leaders become business partners. By better understanding how a business unit consumes IT services, CIOs can have intelligent discussions with department heads. They can recommend how to design the optimal environment, balancing price, risk and functionality. Getting to the bottom of shadow IT projects through more visibility may also help prevent another similar shadow IT project; with more knowledge of customer needs, the CIO can guide the business units on how to get the most cost-effective service.

Full visibility can elevate IT to a position of driving business value rather than restricting and frustrating the business. If IT can get engaged before the business decision or implementation, it can collaborate for better organizational outcomes. Delivering visibility across your increasingly distributed and complex IT infrastructure isn’t easy, yet it can help everyone get on the same page and aligned with business objectives and user needs.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Now read: Getting grounded in IoT