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Fast Growth: Supporting IT Purchasing Needs | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps #ContinuousDelivery

The consequence of an improperly staffed or funded IT department is that innovation falls by the wayside

Fast Growth: Convincing Management to Support IT Purchasing Needs and How to Cope When They Won't Budge

By now, the link between IT modernization and business success is clearly defined and well understood. According to a recent survey of IT professionals, 93 percent of respondents indicated that adopting significant new technologies is at least somewhat important to their organization's long-term success, and budget limitations ranked as one of the top limitations to that adoption.

I think the key problem here is that IT departments are still seen as cost centers, not as business enablers. The consequence is that IT departments get about the same budget every year, not taking into account the fact that IT has a broader and increasingly significant impact on every area of the business with every passing year. More importantly, this mindset misses the opportunity to enable IT to transform and optimize the business.

Although IT-related spending is expected to exceed $3.8 trillion by 2019, consider where those funds are going - nearly 70 percent of a typical organization's investment in IT is spent just keeping the lights on, meaning most of your time and resources are spent simply maintaining business functions rather than on improvements that can maximize business efficiency, cut costs and improve the end-user's quality of experience.

The consequence of an improperly staffed or funded IT department is that innovation falls by the wayside. Without sufficient resources and capabilities, like visibility into the health and performance of systems and tools that can provide early warnings, most IT departments are thrown back into firefighting mode. Everything is purely reactive and your role is more about fast fixes rather than operating proactively to identify potential problems before the end user is impacted. Further, organizations that aren't able to spare additional funds for their IT department are more than likely going to be stuck operating old, inefficient infrastructure devoid of modern advancements.

The consideration for management becomes: if they believe that IT is critical to business success, by not providing the necessary funds required to implement upgrades, they're not only undermining the IT department but also the future of the organization.

How do you as the IT professional move the management needle, so to speak, from being content to operate outdated infrastructure, applications or software to ensuring the IT department is adequately equipped to innovate and implement better technology?

In a world where networks and systems are increasingly complex and distributed, IT professionals must gain an understanding of what motivates management to both maintain and innovate technology. Financial decision-makers are interested in things that reduce spending, including automation; replacing expensive software with lower-cost alternatives; and reducing the overall hardware footprint so that maintenance, support and even power consumption are lower. In order to avoid risk while also looking for investment opportunities that will result in the highest ROI, your leadership is often willing to spend budget to achieve these goals.

Despite appreciating the critical role IT plays in the modern business, your management team likely doesn't think too much about technology unless it doesn't work. The first step is to create a certain level of awareness that ties back to these three themes. You need to be able to translate the IT task, "I need four new servers," for example, to a request that details, in a compelling and straightforward manner, how those servers will support mission-critical functions and business processes.

Of course, even a meticulously prepared and presented case for a larger budget in the face of business growth may not result in any notable changes for IT, perhaps because your organization can't spare any resources or the timing is less than ideal. In the absence of additional funds, IT professionals can leverage the following best practices to maximize existing resources until the case for a budget increase can be made again.

Automate as much as possible.
Automation, whether by writing your own programming code or with third-party tools, also takes instances of human error out of the equation, saving your department and the business a potentially costly outage or downtime. The automation of foundational (albeit not basic or simple) processes like configuration, provisioning, operation, orchestration, monitoring, alerting and management saves you significant time while also maximizing the efficiency of those processes - and the team as a whole. This efficiency will later translate into cost (and time) savings by reducing the percentage of your budget that is dedicated to just keeping the lights on and further enabling IT to innovate and adopt new technologies using the funds you already have.

Optimize your resources.
If your request for a larger budget has been temporarily put on the back burner, you should immediately conduct a careful analysis of existing workloads to determine how best to optimize and future-proof your resources. Start by implementing a comprehensive tool that shows, volume by volume, your organization's current workloads and which resources they are using. This will better equip you to easily balance existing workloads and leverage historical performance and usage data to plan for the future.

When this comes to staff, it means getting a handle on workload, tasks, priorities and interruptions. Just be careful not to introduce "observer bias," which, in monitoring speak, is where the act of monitoring a system causes an overload situation. Without monitoring, the system would have been fine. In staffing terms, make sure the act of having teams document their work doesn't create so much more work that they can't get real work done.

With regard to systems specifically, one of the most common missteps I see in daily infrastructure operations is wasted resources that stem from improper capacity planning or overprovisioning. Research shows that at least 25 percent of IT resources are wasted by overprovisioning and forgotten or zombie VMs, among other causes. You need tools that allow you to spot underutilized resources, maximize your existing capacity and reduce the need for new ones. It's important to start thinking now about how your company is going to grow over the next 3-5 years, and how that growth will impact your existing infrastructure, so you're not constrained by systems that can't scale or grow alongside new resource needs.

A good rule of thumb for accomplishing this is to use your company's existing business growth projections. If your company foresees 10 percent revenue growth each year over the next three years and then five percent each year after that, and you are willing to consider completely replacing a solution after five years, then buy a product that can scale to 40 percent of the size you currently need.

Performance and resource optimization go hand in hand.
When an application needs more performance, what is the default response? "Let's give it more hardware." You then get more memory, buy a new server or upgrade storage to flash. There is a direct correlation between performance and resource usage. Therefore, you should take advantage of tools that allow you to understand, benchmark and optimize system performance. Especially for databases, which are usually the black box of any application. There is nothing worse than making a large investment in a new flash storage array only to find out the performance bottleneck was elsewhere.

Monitoring should no longer be an afterthought.
Today's businesses run on software and applications, which utilize resources from the entire stack: network, storage, server, compute, databases, etc., which are all increasingly interdependent. You must have visibility into the entire application stack by leveraging a comprehensive monitoring tool in order to identify the root cause of issues quickly and proactively identify problems that could impact the end user experience and business bottom-lines if not corrected quickly.

Running applications using custom scripts and basic monitoring is not going to cut it in today's software-centric world. Your business expects apps to work, and to work well. Thinking of and implementing monitoring as a core IT function, giving it the right level of importance, resources and attention - developing a more strategic monitoring process, will help you not only increase quality of experience for the end-user but allow you to operate in a more proactive manner, meaning problems can be caught and solved when the first warning signs show up, preventing fire drills and avoiding business impact. A proactive IT team suffers less downtime and spends more time on strategic initiatives that continuously improve the technology foundation on which the organization runs.

In closing, remember, when seeking the additional funding your IT department needs to keep pace with the growth of the business on the whole, you've got to translate your request into a language business leaders will understand, which is the language of business growth, business cost and business risk. But know that sometimes, the funding just won't be there. In those cases, there are still things you can do to help improve your infrastructure's performance to support business needs without an influx of cash, specifically, automate, optimize and monitor.

More Stories By Gerardo A Dada

Gerardo A Dada is Vice President of Product Marketing and Strategy for SolarWinds’ database and applications business globally. He is a technologist who has been at the center of the Web, mobile, social and cloud revolutions at companies like Rackspace, Microsoft, Motorola, Vignette and Bazaarvoice. He has been involved with database technologies from dBase to BTrieve to SQL Server and NoSQL and DBaaS in the cloud.

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