The market for IT infrastructure components, including servers and storage, continues to fragment as the few big players of five years ago are augmented by a constant stream of new entrants and maturing niche players - but some things haven’t changed.
The comfort zone
It should go without saying that choices in IT infrastructure should be driven by identified requirements. Requirements are informed by IT and business strategy and culture, and it is also perfectly reasonable that requirements are influenced by the personal comfort zones of those tasked with accountability for decisions and service delivery.
I once had a customer tell me that “My IT infrastructure strategy is Sun [Microsystems]” which was perhaps taking a personal comfort zone and brand loyalty a little too far. His statement told me that he did not really have an IT infrastructure strategy at all since he was being brand-led rather than requirements-driven.
Comfort zones can be important because they send us warning signals that we should assess risks, but I think we all recognise that they should not be used as an excuse to repeat what we have always done just because it worked last time.
Moving the needle
I had an astute customer tell me recently that his current, very flexible solution had served him well through a wide range of changes and significant growth over the last ten years, but that his next major infrastructure buying decision would probably be a significant departure in technology because he was looking to establish a platform for the next ten years, not the last ten years.
Any major investment opportunity in IT infrastructure is an opportunity to move the needle in terms of value and efficiency. To simply do again what you did last time is an opportunity missed.
Decision making mathematics
Most of us realise that we are all prone to apply our own style of decision-making with its inevitable strengths and weaknesses. Personal decision-making is then layered with the challenges of teams and interaction, as all of the points of view come together (hopefully not in a head-on collision). Knowing our strengths and weaknesses and how we interact in teams can help us to make a balanced decision.
Some multi-criteria mathematical theories claim that there is always ultimately a single rational choice, but ironically even mathematicians can’t agree on that. Bernoulli’s expected utility hypothesis for example suggests that there are multiple entirely rational choices depending on simple factors like how risk-averse the decision-makers are. Add to that the effect of past experience (Bayesian inference for the hard core) and mathematics can easily take you in a circle without really making your decision any more objective.
Knowing all of this, it is still useful to layer some structure into our decision-making to ensure that we are focused on the requirements and on the end goal of essential business value. For example, use of weightings in decision-making has been a relatively common way of trying to introduce some objectivity into proposal evaluations.
Five essential characteristics
Many of you will be familiar with the NIST definition of Cloud as having five essential characteristics which we have previously discussed in this blog. One way to measure the overall generic quality of a cloud offering is to evaluate that offering against the five characteristics, but I am suggesting that we take that one step further. The essential characteristics can also be applied more broadly to any infrastructure decision as a first pass highlighter of relative merit and essential value.
- On-demand self-service (translated to “ease of use”)
- Broad network access (translated to “connectivity”)
- Rapid elasticity (translated to “flexibility”)
- Resource pooling (translated to “physical efficiency”)
- Metering (“metering and reporting”)
In client specific engagements, if you were going to measure five qualities, it might make more sense to tailor the characteristics measured to specific client requirements, but as a generic first-pass tool we can simply use these five approximated NIST characteristics:
- Ease of use
- Physical efficiency
- Metering & Reporting
The web of essential value
In pursuit of essential value, the modified NIST essential characteristics can be evaluated to arrive at a “web of essential value” by rating the options from zero to five and plotting them onto a radar diagram.
You still have to do all your own analysis, so I don't think we're going to be threatening the Forrester Wave or the Gartner Magic Quadrant any time soon. Rather than being a way to present pre-formed analysis and opinion, WEV is a way for you to think about your options with an approach inspired by NIST’s definition of Cloud essential characteristics. WEV is not intended to be your only tool, but it might be an interesting place to start in your evaluations.
The next time you have an IT infrastructure choice to make, why not start with the Web of Essential Value? I’d be keen to hear if you find it useful. The only other guidance I would offer is not to be too narrow in your interpretation of the five essential characteristics.
I wish you all good decision-making.