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The network wishlist

01 Nov 2010

It’s no secret that lower latency, enhanced reliability and higher throughput are all high on the IT department's wish-list, but from the discussions I have been having with CIOs recently, it’s clear that above all else, what they'd really like to see is a single network infrastructure that is capable of handling all data, clustering and storage traffic.It sounds like a tall order, but it's hardly surprising that many CIOs have been taking a long, hard look at their current network infrastructures, with many of them researching virtualisation and cloud computing as a means to ensuring their IT can scale over the next five to 10 years – with minimal disruption and risk.All too often we have heard about IT teams managing two or three parallel networks: a storage network built for reliability; another for guaranteed data integrity and non-blocking performance; and sometimes a third for expandable bandwidth, each with dedicated teams assigned to focus on the complexities and specific applications running on their servers.But now discussion is sparking around the world about the race to virtualisation. An abundance of technical papers have been written to educate CIOs on the benefits of consolidating and collapsing servers and storage systems, while delivering considerable efficiencies. We are seeing CIOs shifting gears from focusing on managing traditional IT assets, such as the data centre, to virtual assets that are accessed in the cloud, as they become better informed on cloud delivery models. But along with this better understanding, there remain concerns about the potential weaknesses of the cloud, including security and availability. Additionally, these new technologies not only increase the complexity of IT systems, but also add complexity associated with managing and supporting the systems. Diagnosing problems is now far more complicated than simply identifying the IT asset causing the problem. Today, systems are more interconnected which often leads to complex issues that may take significantly longer to resolve.Underlying these concerns in today’s on-the-go flat economy is a pressing need to deliver service and transactions at impeccable speed and accuracy, while driving revenue and brand perception. Another trend we see growing in 2011 is the focus CIOs will place on their whole IT infrastructure support and management, similar to that of managing a business process. This requires the IT organisation to identify all of the assets required for the business process to function and then coordinating the support for   those assets. To make this change, CIOs will require the enterprise IT departments to move beyond traditional silos and work together in a more coordinated manner.   At the same time, they will be expected to evolve their role and functions within an organisation to link it to business process performance. CIOs will also expect service, supporting vendors to do likewise, and may explore addendums to existing SLAs or add new SLAs for process efficiency and performance.This will help ensure that their IT support provider goes beyond just determining the health of the IT asset they are responsible for and trusting that it is operationally functioning before walking away. What will CIOs spend in 2011? I don’t see 2011 spending patterns and inclinations being dramatically different from 2010. In fact, now that the recession tide has somewhat receded, CIOs will have greater clarity on what lies ahead.However money is tighter, customers are more fickle, cycles are shorter and opportunities that came and went more quickly in 2010 will continue at pace. The expression "speed kills" will be more accurate than ever through 2011 as IT organisations find themselves submerged in mountains of data, struggling to identify the corresponding volume of insightful information.  I forsee business analytics, and in particular predictive analytics, becoming enormously important in 2011. CIOs who seize the initiative to turn insights into actionable foresights will have a huge advantage.The interest in the big virtualisation transition has not stopped, not even when the economy was rocked two years ago, so while adoption rates may have been somewhat cautious, the interest still remained high. I guess the advantage of virtual machines over physical machines is just too attractive to ignore. This is no surprise considering server virtualisation is moving to the next level as a truly dynamic infrastructure, where IT resources become part of a ‘self-service catalogue’ for the business to utilise as required. This will include the capabilities to provision and de-provision infrastructure for specific application requirements based on SLAs and on-demand requirements. The next item creeping up the CIO’s agenda as the world continues to tear down the walls of our enterprise to equip on-the-go workers with anytime access, is cloud security. With greater consumerisation, workers are now accessing corporate assets from any type of device – literally moving data from one data centre to another. However securing information is not the same as controlling information and CIOs are often left with a decision on what and how much information to secure and to control. What can channels offer?  There is definitely good news for IT channels that can offer network design capabilities, with strong back-end support expertise and a range of professional services geared towards implementing cloud environments and those that deliver cloud services. CIOs will be looking for answers to concerns surrounding the cloud and they will seek out potential cloud vendors and partners to ensure they are making the best strategic decisions. With their role increasingly tied to the business process and financial performance, CIOs will also want to have a partner who can be a trusted advisor to their IT organisations. They’ll need to lead the curve of investment in the skills and capabilities of their service offering as well as demonstrate the ability to put a business continuity plan in place for their clients.Finally, while successful vendors will be those who provide and deliver a next-generation network of unprecedented scalability, but with reduced management complexity, they’ll also need to be mindful of CIOs’ existing investments.Successful channel partners will be those who are able to offer CIOs the ability to pair seamless mobility and emerging networking technologies with existing infrastructure, rather than forcing them to refresh the entire environment in a wholesale 'rip-and-replace' exercise.     The scope for channel partners in 2011 is significant and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s to come, but a focus and clarity on CIOs’ requirements and interests will undoubtedly translate into sales opportunities.