Two weeks on the road, two major conferences, lots of info -- and three key lessons for CIOs.
First, reaching back to Interop in Las Vegas, the big lesson is that virtualization has finally reached every aspect of the enterprise datacenter. Virtual servers are old hat, virtual storage is commonplace, and now the virtual network is entering the datacenter to take care of all the servers and storage systems. This level of virtualization is going to bring with it some exciting possibilities along with a number of new concerns and issues for IT executives.
On the "exciting possibilities" side of the ledger are much greater utilization of network resources and more complete support of all the virtual servers that fill enterprise datacenter architectures. Furthermore, the virtual networks (or software-defined networks, as many companies are calling them) should make it much easier to build the kind of hybrid traditional/virtual/cloud system that enterprises are coming to depend on. Of course, all this exciting newness comes at a price.
One of the easiest and most obvious costs will be the new hardware required for software-defined networks. If your core switches are more than about six months old, there's a very good chance that you're going to have to do some sort of forklift upgrade in order to get these new capabilities.
The switches aren't the most significant portion of the new infrastructure, though. For that, we have to look at the management and monitoring tools that your staff will use to ride herd on all these virtual network links. The virtual networks, in the long run, are going to be fast -- something that will come in handy when you're running your big-data analysis application in server memory.
Last week's Sapphire NOW, the huge gathering of the SAP faithful, was all about HANA, the company's in-memory platform for data operations and analysis and the source of the second major lesson. The use cases for HANA were all about real-time results: asking a question (just about any question) and getting the answer almost instantly. In one speech we heard about a six-second threshold, and there were other examples that made six seconds seem glacial -- speed is everything when it comes to data analysis today.
The price you'll pay for all this speed is the price tag for a server with great whopping quantities of DDRAM: Think RAM in 8 to 12 terabyte quantities with hundreds of terabytes of SSD storage as the Tier 1 disk farm. SAP is doing what it can to make the price tag at least a bit less trauma-inducing: It has introduced HANA in the cloud for those who need to develop applications and gain access to the analytical power of in-memory computing before writing a check the size of a small-nation economy. The most interesting thing I heard at Sapphire, though, is the third key lesson for CIOs coming out of all this.
Hasso Plattner, SAP's CEO and founder, talked about the fact that many of the most compelling applications for HANA, in areas ranging from medical research to Formula 1 racing, came from those outside SAP, doing things with the platform that the company's software engineers had never imagined.
What's the lesson of that? There are new capabilities and ways of making IT happen hitting your datacenter: Allow for the possibilities of serendipity. Allow for business units and IT pros playing around to come up with the exciting applications and solutions that you didn't have in mind when you convinced the executive committee to write the checks.
What we're really seeing in all of this speed and virtualization is a spreading of the wealth and a reduction in the top-down way of doing things that we've all grown up on. Learn the lessons, join the new wave -- and let E2 know what you think about the lessons that CIOs need to learn.