It Always Comes Down to People

Before you can link your infrastructure together, you’re going to have to break through some silos. This third article in our series suggests some diplomatic ways to break down the walls.

While the technology exists today to implement a fully converged infrastructure that integrates servers, storage, networks and management into a single, flexible, and adaptable IT environment, the technology, in fact, may be the easy part. Probably the single biggest barrier to realizing a converged infrastructure is political. Before you can effectively change the technology you have to change the culture of protected fiefdoms that make up the typical IT department; this is the hill on which a converged infrastructure fight will be fought.

The advantages of a unified infrastructure are very compelling on a broad technology and financial level. When you get down to the people involved, however, it can get more complicated. Questions of job security and anxiety about future downsizing can cause technologists to feel threatened by their own technology.

The key to aligning the IT culture with a converged infrastructure is being able to drive the change from the top down. This is not a situation where democracy plays very well. That doesn’t mean tyranny is the answer, either. The best way to get your storage people collaborating with your networking people, for example, is to get them participating directly in the process of defining what it will take to make the culture reflect the new image of the technology.

If you haven’t go down the path of virtualization yet, then your existing culture probably reflects the out-dated mindset that every application requires its own dedicated environment: server, network interface, storage device, etc. As a result, when some business user comes in asking for a new application, each department head in IT has to spend hours figuring out the current optimal hardware (which may be different than what was specified six months ago), order it, get it in, stand it up, test it, and move it into production.

With a converged infrastructure, there is a shared-use model where resources are available by going to a portal and simply requesting them. Intelligence built into the IT fabric takes care of the provisioning and deployment of the appropriate resources according to the rules and best practices established by the IT department. It changes what had been the focal point of a technologist’s responsibilities to a relatively simple task. Now, instead of spending all his or her time assembling the technology piece by piece, the technologist can focus on the more creative task of enhancing what the business user actually wants to accomplish.

Shared-use mindset

A good way to get your technologists to embrace the shared-use mindset is to engage them in designing the underlying technology that needs to be in place to accomplish it. If possible, I recommend an offsite kick-off meeting where you bring together all involved department heads to help develop the new reality they will be living in. The kick-off should be followed by a series of strategy sessions that includes the technical department heads — who may not be so technical anymore — and their architects to talk tech.

It is also important that the technical specialists in your department understand that a converged infrastructure doesn’t make their knowledge irrelevant, or diminish their value to the organization in any way. Virtualization abstracts the physical hardware and software in separate layers, but you still have to have the people who know how each layer interacts with the one above it.

For example, the network administrator is still fundamentally responsible for the performance, availability, and security of the network. Instead of diminishing the value of his or her knowledge, what becomes important (and in his self-interest) is to expand his expertise and his value beyond his current domain (the network). Now that the network guy isn’t spending his time pulling or tracing cables, he will have the time to get beyond the boundary of his own device, and talk to the server gal about her next generation plans. Both of them can then talk with the business user about how to launch her new application for the external customer base.

In the end, technologists can increase their value to the organization because they will no longer need to be holed up in the data center.

Not your box anymore

As IT begins to relax its sense of ownership of specific technologies, it can come as a shock to learn that business department heads may still think they own the technology. That’s when you hear: “That box was paid for out of our budget and you can’t share it with those guys in finance or HR or accounting.”

One way to break through resistance to change at this level is to go above it to the CFO and CEO who tend to be more receptive to the idea that all technology today is a corporate-wide asset not a department-level asset. Let them be the ones to tell the recalcitrant department head, “It’s not your box anymore.”

Perhaps a more diplomatic way to proceed is to build allies among department heads. I recommend looking for those early wins that will give you the biggest impact. If customer service is your company’s top value, then you need to make the customer service business owner your biggest ally. If it’s manufacturing, start by showing the head of manufacturing how a shared resource model can work for him or her.

Solve a problem for one business unit and let them talk about it how great it is with the others.

The implications of a converged infrastructure extend throughout an organization, not just the IT department. What’s possible with the technology needs to be possible with the politics. To succeed in today’s extremely competitive markets, everyone in every department has to have the overall well being of the organization as his or her focus. Technologists may not know anything about double-entry accounting, but they should know that if they can help get a product to market faster or ensure that manufacturing has less downtime, that it is going to have a positive impact on business.

The plus side for IT politically is that the changes required to implement a converged infrastructure will in fact tend to elevate the value and visibility of IT within an organization. Technologists may have to give up their sanctuary in the data center, but the opportunity is there to spend more time in the executive suite.

Check this space for the next article in this series: Don’t Let Your Legacy Become Your Legacy, when Logicalis technologist Ken Bylsma will explore the white elephants roaming all of our enterprise data centers and discuss when to confront them and when to run away.

Other articles in the series include:

Brett Anderson is the director of HP Server & Network Solutions at Logicalis, an international provider of integrated information and communications technology solutions and services, where he is responsible for the support and growth of the HP Networking and Server business within Logicalis. Mr. Anderson has been with Logicalis for fourteen years, holding consulting and management responsibilities in Logicalis’ Professional Services and Sales organizations.