Critical Success Factors for Building a Future-Ready IT Infrastructure

To respond quickly to marketplace changes, look beyond scalability and open technology. Two critical success factors can help IT teams design and deploy new technologies more rapidly and more cost ef

Whether one specializes in information technology or the business side of the enterprise, there’s no mistaking this simple truth: Enterprises must respond more quickly than before to changes in the marketplace. Now more than ever, companies need their IT infrastructure to be future-ready. For some companies, a future-ready IT infrastructure means being able to analyze huge amounts of real-time data in a timely fashion so predictions are useful and actionable. For some firms it means modernizing their data center to meet strict new regulatory requirements. For other enterprises, being future-ready is all about shortening the development and deployment cycle on new services that are essential to retaining existing customers and acquiring new ones.

Expanding the Debate on Building Future-Ready IT

When pundits and industry watchers provide advice on how to build a future-ready IT infrastructure, they tend to focus on the same set of critical success factors—the need for scalability; open, extensible technology; and world-class security. Without question, those factors are absolutely essential to achieving a future-ready IT environment. However, those success factors already have been discussed and analyzed a great deal over the years.

Two key pieces of the future-ready equation—IT design and IT deployment—must also be addressed. Specifically, there are two critical factors that can help IT teams design and deploy new technologies more rapidly and more cost effectively. But first, let's set some context on building a future-ready IT infrastructure.

Key to a Future-Ready IT Infrastructure: Leveraging New Technologies

Regardless of the industry in which a company competes, an enterprise serious about building a future-ready IT environment must continually leverage new technology. Harnessing new software and hardware is essential if a company wants to stay abreast of the competition and ensure that its future-ready IT infrastructure is constantly improving and refining its ability to respond rapidly to change. Achieving a future-ready IT infrastructure is not a one-time investment -- it's an ongoing process and commitment.

IT managers recognize that leveraging new technologies is key to future-readiness, and they also recognize that the traditional way of designing and deploying new technologies no longer suffices. That old approach—a time-consuming and labor-intensive process of building complex systems from scratch—is too cumbersome in a business world marked by rapid change and intense competitive pressures.

A new technology solution budgeted between $250,000 to $1 million typically requires an IT team to aggregate components from an average of 75 different vendors. The process of designing and deploying that complex system alone—including evaluating, selecting, integrating and testing all of those different components—can take several months for IT teams already stretched thin.

In the days before global competition and the Internet, IT managers had more time to experiment with developing new design methodologies from scratch. When they reached the deployment phase, the time and cost pressures were simply less intense than they are today. All that has changed as the pace of business has accelerated exponentially. IT managers are actively looking for a better way—and they recognize that designing and deploying new technologies more rapidly and cost effectively is a top priority.

A Critical Factor in IT Infrastructure Design

In the area of IT infrastructure design, there is a direct relationship between effective architectural design and an IT team’s ability to prepare for changes (such as spikes in business and new business opportunities).

When building out future-ready IT infrastructures:

Don't reinvent the wheel, use a design methodology that’s proven to work -- precisely because it’s already proven to work.

In other words, time and budgets are simply too tight these days to create a robust, cohesive design independently. The most effective approach is to utilize a proven design methodology that can shorten the evaluation cycle and get systems up and running more quickly. A proven methodology also ensures that future-ready capabilities are bolted-in from the ground up—capabilities such as built-in scalability so that business units can respond quickly to changes in user demand by adding or subtracting computing resources “on the fly” on an as-needed basis.

Capturing Best Practices in Proven Architectures

In response to IT managers' demand for a faster, more effective design approach, a growing number of IT vendors are capturing proven methodologies (and lessons learned) and are now delivering those best practices in the form of pre-tested and proven architectures tailored for specific industries or solution areas (e.g., banking or data warehousing).

The proof is in the results: Companies that utilize pre-tested solutions and proven methodologies consistently report that they save considerable time, money, and effort by streamlining design evaluation efforts. They also report that at the end of the process the solution developed actually meets their unique requirements and provides future-ready capabilities that are built-in from the start. For example, comprehensive security that's bolted into place from the ground up as compared to a “patched on” approach contributes to an IT environment that can address changing business needs. The win for IT managers in utilizing reference architectures is the ability to reduce risk and cost, get to market faster, and design in from the outset the scalability, security, and other capabilities required for future-readiness.

A Critical Factor in IT Deployment

In the area of IT deployment, a primary challenge is the need for a deployment process that can help rather than hinder business units working to respond to rapid, unpredictable changes—changes such as sudden surges in Web traffic or a bold new service launched by a competitor.

Like its counterpart on the design side, the critical factor of IT deployment is simple:

When it comes to deployment, do it right the first time around or face the consequences.

The message is to take a rigorous, methodical approach to deployment so that this “last mile” of the implementation process delivers results fast, instead of becoming a potential bottleneck—or worse, a trap door leading to a host of avoidable errors and issues.

There are three distinct advantages when deployment is done right the first time around:

  • New systems are deployed and ready for business faster
  • In-house talent is freed up for higher-value tasks, such as launching new services
  • The potential rate of errors and other early life-system issues is lower, making the IT infrastructure inherently more future-ready

Bringing Mass Customization to the Data Center

IT managers are placing a premium on reducing the long time IT components wait on the loading dock to be configured and assembled and can be integrated into a value-added solution. To speed time to revenue and improve quality, a growing number of companies are leveraging the benefits of mass customization by adopting factory-integration deployment programs available from qualified vendors. Such programs are able to handle large-volume, highly repeatable deployments of solutions as well as small-volume implementations.

Mass customization delivers exactly what the enterprise customer wants with all the efficiencies and benefits of mass production. Companies gain the benefit of a custom-fit solution deployed correctly the first time around without sacrificing anything in the areas of system design, quality, time-to-market, or cost. Companies that have leveraged mass customization through personalized deployment programs from qualified vendors have reported that utilizing this approach can help reduce their deployment times by over 90 percent while cutting early life-system issues by as much as 80 percent.

Planning for an Unpredictable Future

Successful IT teams recognize that a key to their long-term success is their ability to sustain a computing infrastructure that is ready to respond quickly to market changes and opportunities. While there are numerous challenges associated with building a truly future-ready IT infrastructure, a top priority is being able to design and deploy new technologies in a fast, efficient, and intelligent manner by using proven methodologies. These two factors stand out as especially critical in planning for an unpredictable future.

About the Author

Steve Campbell, vice president of marketing for Sun Microsystems Enterprise Systems Products, is focused on Sun's datacenter offerings. His responsibilities include midrange and high-end Sun Fire and Sun Enterprise servers, graphics products, mainframe migration, datacenter consolidation and High Performance Technical Computing initiatives, and Sun Reference Architecture and Customer Ready Systems programs.