Aligning Business with Technology 

By Susan Ibarra  

2nd part of a 3 Part Series

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This Issue:

Infolutions would like to thank Mr. David Nocera, VP at Innovative Systems Design, an information technology company, located in Edison NJ, for some specific information we utilized.  In the last issue we began to cover some of the complexities of infrastructure at the basic website level.  This issue continues to delve deeper into infrastructure’s requirements and constraints, which can greatly impact the flow of business.  The enormity of how it affects a company’s bottom line is staggering.

Many of the folks at Innovative Systems Design came out of AT & T.  David Nocera, Vice President of Innovative Systems Design explains, “As Chief Architect for AT & T Long Distance, I had an infrastructure of 475 Unix and NT servers, located across 35 call centers and 2 data centers.”  He continues, “When you manage something that vast you have to come up with procedures and methodologies for doing it in an efficient way.  Otherwise, you have 10’s of people managing infrastructure and your operational costs are driven even higher.”  Some of what Mr. Nocera and his associates have done at Innovative Systems Design is to take their methodologies and turn them into software.


It’s Not The Size That Counts . . .

 …It’s how you align your business with your technology infrastructure that matters.  While large companies can absorb inefficiencies, they can really hurt the small and mid-sized company’s bottom line.  Companies in their quest for market-share and competitiveness are embracing available technologies:  Development of websites; putting in local area networks (LANs); building wide area networks (WANs); managing their supply chains; creating relational databases; data warehousing , knowledge management, distance learning and training.  The list goes on and on.

 …So, now you’re going to a 3rd party integrator or hardware reseller.  Chances are they are going to sell you as much software and hardware as possible.  Large companies have whole organizations that know about technology and they can afford a few mistakes, it just pulls a few percentage points from the shareholder value.  To the small and mid-size company who don’t understand technology, over-purchasing can devastate profits. 

Beyond the initial purchase, be wary that there are a lot of 2nd and 3rd order costs associated with over purchasing infrastructure.  For example, if you buy too many servers, you will also spend too much on:

1. Software Licensing, 2. Hardware Maintenance Contracts, and perhaps the hardest to quantify is, 3. The people costs associated with Platform Management.


Fundamentally, when you roll-out an infrastructure, you will need to understand the implications. For example, if you minimize the number of servers, you can reduce the total cost of ownership.  The same holds true for desktop PCs and storage devices.  They need to be set up, managed and maintained.  As a result, the more infrastructure components arrays you have, the higher the costs of manageability as seen in those as 2nd and 3rd order costs. 

No one should be purchasing infrastructure; they should be aligning infrastructure purchases with the needs of their business. Anyone seeking infrastructure expertise should expect this level of knowledge from their providers.


Remember MAPSS

Whenever evaluating the introduction of a new technology always consider the criteria:

     Manageability
     Availability
     Performance
     Scalability
     Security

 

Manageability is the ability of technology solutions to be managed, which reduces people costs. The most critical question to ask when introducing any technology is how this technology will be managed. For example, the industry estimates that a typical PC desktop cost the business over $2500 per year to maintain (hardware, software and people).   The people costs items, i.e. help-desk, LAN, virus, email and printer support can amount to over $1000 per year.   If a technology solution is difficult to manage, purchase decisions aimed entirely at reducing the cost of the hardware acquisition (one time $800) can actually cost the business more in the long term.

Two desktop technologies that exist today to drive down the cost per PC desktop are thin client computing and Linux with Star Office.  The former approach takes operating costs out of the business while the later takes software licensing costs out, but requires training.  If you have “heads-down” users who only perform a few business functions on their PC, such as word processing or accounting, the migration to a Linux desktop as an alternative to Microsoft is becoming a real option.  If you have occasional PC users that need the power of the PC and you want to drive down operations costs, thin client computing options exist like Citrix MetaFrame.


Availability is the ability for infrastructure components themselves to survive outages.   There are costs in a business associated with outages.  Some companies lose money when systems are down.  A good example is call centers.  When systems are down at a call center, the result could be perhaps 1000 call reps sitting around with nothing to do.  Lets not forget the customer either—they can’t get through.  That’s costing the company a lot of money (and good will)!  This is how availability is tied to costs.

There are a number of technologies that exist today such as server farms that can allow a company to purchase cheaper hardware without risking availability. 


Performance is about getting the most functionality out of your infrastructure.  For example, if you get more users per box, you would need fewer boxes.  Fewer boxes means you bought less physical hardware, which in turn lowers your capital/depreciation costs as well as all the software licensing costs etc.


Scalability - One of the most important aspects is scalability.  How does your infrastructure grow?  How do you add new technology into an infrastructure and allow it to expand exponentially, if that’s the way your business grows, without laying out all your money up front?  A better alternative is an architecture with a upfront plan on  how to scale it. This plan is called a Capacity Plan.  A Capacity Plan details how the infrastructure is going to grow.


Security - When you build an infrastructure solution, how do you secure it?  How do you sure it up against hackers?  Many times, security is protecting you from yourself, such as operational errors and people having the right permissions to access the computers, servers and databases. 


To help you manage infrastructure from a security prospective, there are new classes of software that, for example, prevent multiple servers from varying into different standards.  So if you have 15 web servers, today your system administration staff will log into all of your web servers, one at a time and try to keep them running at the same performance level.  With this software, you can now manage all of those servers simultaneously as though they were a single server.  Therefore when you roll out Operating System patches or are setting new performance tune-ups, they all get the same tunable parameters. Now you’re managing your populations of servers more efficiently. 


Do you have a topic that you’d like to read about or need written?  We’d like to know.

Do you have a question about your business?  We can help. 

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