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IT ‘megatribes’

Jul 19, 20045 mins
Data Center

* Separate IT tribes have evolved into ‘megatribes’

Two years ago I wrote a column called “IT Tribes?” that looked at the tribal nature of skill groups within IT – such as network specialists, database specialists, systems management specialists, app management specialists, and so forth. My premise was that these not only represent different skill groups, but also miniature cultures, each with its own superstitions about the other.

Since then I’ve seen a lot of attention given to “cross-silo management” and some actual progress in many IT shops. The general assumption is that by focusing on service and business alignment, the walls between these unique “tribal groups” can come tumbling down, and at least to some degree this has proven true. Moreover, smart technology investments that provide common contexts for data and analysis can also help to build bridges across separate groups with traditionally separate tool sets. (On the other hand, many vendors have marketed almost like arms dealers, promising, for instance, that they have products to keep blame off, say, the networking group and push it back over onto the app group where it belongs. Arming the Hatfields against the McCoys, even if unenlightened, has always been a highly profitable business.)

In fact, enough progress has been made so that no one I’m aware of postulates any longer that these silos should endure as virtually walled, cultural enclaves.

What I’m proposing now is that this progress has led to a clustering. There are now three megatribes in IT, any one of which can provide the foundation for integrating into a truly infrastructure-centric, business-aligned organization.

Each of the three has its own strengths and weaknesses, and any one of the three may have the right “DNA” in a given IT organization to carry the day. It’s up to the savvy CIO to look across these megatribes and build from strength towards the final goal – a more efficient, more collaborative, more business-aligned (and customer-centric) team.

The three groups are: help desk/service desk, data center, and network operations center (NOC). Let’s look at each one very briefly:

Help desk/service desk

The help desk has been “customer facing” and in theory knows customers and customer concerns the best. Moreover, the service desk should be the central point of liaison with business needs and business objectives, and the real bridge between operations and business process. And of course the IT Infrastructure Library would favor exactly this choice. However, Enterprise Management Associates research has found that the service desk is not always most closely affiliated with the help desk. In many of the shops we surveyed, it had moved to, or was moving to, the NOC. One of the reasons for this shift was that, while the help desk has had a reactive tradition in response to service failure, NOCs were becoming more proactive and preemptive. So, to some degree, it’s the “service center” (to take a more neutral term) that’s the key.

Data center

The data center is where, let’s face it, traditionally most of the big money has resided in IT. Even in the age of the Internet, the data center tradition, with its focus on systems and databases, has been dominating market trends for years. If there were a hierarchy, application managers would claim natural aristocracy, since it’s the applications that fundamentally must align with the business, served and supported by everything else. So, the data center may hold the cards for harvesting the best and the brightest to lead in infrastructure consolidation. The downside is that the data center tradition has often been one of oblivion and indifference to other megatribes. Moreover, many systems managers still focuses on a component view rather than oceanic view, and applications, which are oceanic in nature – are the least evolved in terms of management capabilities and instrumentation. Web services and service-oriented architectures may do a lot to change that in the coming years.


The NOC is neither the bureaucratically pure first choice of help desk/service desk nor the aristocratic choice of the data center. However, the NOC has a couple of distinct advantages. Network management is the most evolved discipline in terms of consistent instrumentation and recognition of interdependencies. While there are still plenty of troglodytes who think network management is really about a specific device, they are in the decline, and there is a growing number of more enlightened network engineers who recognize that “networked infrastructure” is a sea of interdependencies, made up of network devices, security devices, systems devices, and software and application components. Good network management tools capture all these interdependencies at a War Room level. Moreover, service-level management began in the network, and it is the network that may have the greatest number of external service-level agreements to manage with outsourced providers. So, the NOC is also a contender, despite the perception of its lowly ranking on the OSI food chain.

Whoever gets the nod will have to have the leadership and support to bring together the full infrastructure management team. In the end it’s not about one of the MegaTribes becoming all-powerful – it’s about harnessing the strengths of each group to build a solid, customer-facing, “tribally neutral” environment.

These are my thoughts. I welcome your comments, opinions, world views, etc. Please let me hear from you at