Outdated IT Infrastructure is Unable to Meet Modern Demands
Moore’s law is the observation that transistor density in integrated circuits doubles about every two years. Gordon E. Moore (the co-founder of Intel) made this ‘prediction’ in 1965 and it’s held relatively true since then. Despite the current deceleration in Moore’s law since around 2010 due to technical challenges and the semiconductor industry shifting it’s focus to major computing applications; Moore’s law is a clear example of the rate at which technology changes.
Although Moore’s law spoke more specifically to the hardware engineering behind technology, the ideal can be generalized to illustrate the exponential advances in software and networking as well. It is to this end that we must define what ‘Outdated IT Infrastructure’ is, and how to digitally transform your environment to meet modern demands.
What is “Outdated IT Infrastructure?”
When this question was first hurled my way, my mind went immediately to the giant rooms in the mid 1940’s filled with multi-million-dollar vacuum tube computers. Lightbulbs, knobs, toggle switches, gears, and valves all chunking, clinking, and whirring in chaotic harmony to perform functions that can be performed today by a $35 Raspberry Pi. To some degree, the image described above may be true in the physical sense, however a larger aspect of what can be considered “Outdated IT Infrastructure” is in reality far more abstract.
Consider a medium-sized business with around 100 employees founded circa the year 2000. The basic needs of the company were generally user management, email, file sharing, and internet. While things like Hotmail and AOL did exist, they were not considered appropriate for business use as they did not identify an email as being from the company. Cloud-based file-sharing platforms like Dropbox were yet to be a gleam in their creator’s eyes. There was not even the concept of “The Cloud” per se. The need arose for a platform that could meet the company’s needs: Enter Microsoft! Microsoft offered an in-house (now commonly called “on-prem”) solution that let you buy your own hardware and run services that met these needs. Active Directory (user management and file sharing), Exchange (email, calendar, and contacts), and Domain Services (internet and routing) together fulfilled the most common needs of our Y2K business. Years turned in to decades and company Y2K updated their servers and Microsoft software all with the understanding that they were using the latest and up-to-date versions. So why is this brand-new server running the latest version of MS Exchange considered outdated?
To be blunt (or frank… whichever you prefer), the hardware and software are not outdated, but the ideology is. Thinking back to Moore’s law, it becomes a little clearer. Moore’s law spoke to scaling processor architecture, but the same is true in infrastructure. If you do not build your infrastructure with the ability to scale, you are in effect inhibiting your ability to grow and change as more efficient and powerful technologies become available. This is where a shift in mentality is crucial to creating an infrastructure that can adapt and fluidly change with the ever-evolving needs of the modern business.
So how do we do this? I’m glad you asked! Let’s segue into “The Cloud.” Sounds fluffy and pleasant doesn’t it? In reality, ‘the cloud’ is cold hard metal. By this I mean ‘the cloud’ is a collection of servers sitting in a data center, purposely built and configured to allow you to provision services and resources for your own greedy needs! “There is no cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer.” This is probably one of the best memes I’ve seen floating out there in the ether. Essentially, this meme is right. “The Cloud” is just a bunch of hardware owned by someone (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Etc…) that they rent to you to either store your data or host some sort of service (like email).
So, why would we want to “rent” someone else’s hardware and bandwidth when it’s cheaper to buy your own? Well there are several advantages to doing this:
- Big vendors usually have HIGHLY redundant hardware. This means the probability that the service or data will be unavailable is very low.
- Those big vendors maintain and upgrade their hardware so you don’t have to.
- It’s easier to access cloud-based data and services from anywhere than it is to access a private data center or network.
- The infrastructure is scalable so you can dynamically allocate or de-allocate resources as needed and have them instantly available. This includes storage, bandwidth, services, and users.
- In most cases, services you subscribe to are updated automatically so you never have to worry about buying costly servers to upgrade your environment. (think of MS Exchange here)
- Upgrades can be performed with little or no downtime.
While the above list could go for many pages, the point is that it is costly, inefficient, and time consuming to maintain on-prem hardware/software and you are physically limited buy what hardware you buy to facilitate a service for any period of time. In short, the ‘ideal’ of having solely on-prem solutions is the inhibiting factor and is in and of itself “outdated.” So, how do we transform our business digitally to meet modern demands?
What is “Digital Transformation?”
Given the long-winded overture about scalable cloud infrastructure above, you might think that “Digital Transformation” of a company means: “Move your infrastructure to the cloud.” This is not necessarily so. Above I tried to emphasize that it is the ideology that is outdated and not necessarily the hardware or software. So what exactly does this mean? Digital Transformation is often incorrectly (or more appropriately “incompletely”) used as a euphemism for modernizing a company by moving it’s on-prem solutions to the cloud. The truth is, Digital Transformation is not a canned solution that you can just “do” to modernize your company. It is a fundamental shift in the ideology of how your company uses technology.
An example of Digital Transformation in our Y2K company above would entail a business function of the company. Let’s say that Y2K, Inc. is a tax services company and about 70 of the employees are CPA’s. Since 2000, Y2K, Inc. has had a proven track record for filing taxes on time and correctly for its customers. They pride themselves on being able “do the paperwork for you.” The process involves a CPA sitting down with a client, filling-out the tax forms, scanning them, or faxing them to the IRS. The process sometimes takes several hours of the CPA’s time and the customer’s time. Then one fateful morning, a new tax service company, Y2K20, Ltd., opens-up next door. They leverage new software that allows them to automatically pull W-2’s from employers and file a customer’s taxes in a matter of minutes, both accurately and securely for a fraction of the cost. One CPA can facilitate 8x the clients that a CPA at Y2K can in the same amount of time. In order to stay on top of the market and retain clients, Y2K, Inc. must change its process to be competitive. Whether or not the software they will move to is in ‘the cloud’ or running on an on-prem server, the shift to the new technology (software that can import W-2’s and file automatically) represents a digital transformation. Y2K had to shift from the mentality that they “do the paperwork for you” to perhaps “we’ll answer the uncertainties you have when filing your taxes.”
Herein lies the principal shift in philosophy that drives digital transformation. Now Y2K is not only performing the services that they had previously offered, but also doing it more efficiently and with less overhead. Y2K, Inc. wisely chose to host their new platform in the cloud where they can dynamically scale users, compute resources, and bandwidth while being able to immediately take advantage software updates and new features.
The question them remains: “How does Digital Transformation remediate Outdated IT Infrastructure and Meet Modern Demands?” By defining “Outdated IT Infrastructure” more as “Outdated IT Ideology,” we can, with a shift in ideology, more easily embrace technologies that keep our business competitive and relevant in the modern technology culture. Sometimes this means “we move a service to the cloud,” other times it means “We give-up the paper and pencil.” Either way, we give-up something we were accustomed to. It’s almost never going to be a black or white solution. There will always be varying degrees to which a company’s needs can be met. Like Moore’s law and transistor density, the face of business is changing at an astounding pace. Are you ready to change with it?