I have, somewhat openly, mocked the overhyped idea of digital transformation. Supposedly, businesses will transform from whatever they do now to data-based organizations, cleverly analyzing information flowing into them from all over. Driving that data will, of course, be the Internet of Things (IoT).
This theme was reiterated for me today at DellEMC World 2016, where digital transformation had the most realistic veneer decorating it I’ve heard thus far. DellEMC’s perspective is that this transformation is happening, and they even provided a basic strategy for those customers unsure of how they’d change from caterpillar to butterfly. The strategy was repeated in different parts of the keynote presentations.
1. Modernize. For example, move to flash storage. Leverage “software defined.” Use technologies that could both scale out and be automated. Older tech that can’t do this, which many shops are are running, might inhibit progress in the DellEMC interpretation of the landscape.
2. Automate. Here, DellEMC trumpeted VMware, accenting programmable infrastructure. We’ve talked about programmability an awful lot on the Packet Pushers and Datanauts podcasts, whether we were citing VMware specifically or not.
3. Transform. In the DellEMC view, a transforming business will have flexibility to place workloads anywhere they are required. Real-time results required? Put the workload locally. Cost a significant driver? Choose one — or several — of the public clouds. Hybrid cloud seemed to be the endgame of transformation.
I agree that transformation will lead to hybrid cloud for many, probably with some flavor of GIFEE layered on top. That flavor might taste like convergence in smaller shops that want easy-to-consume IT. That might be more of a parts-bin approach for larger shops who require a fine-tuned control. But I think we’ll all get there.
However, I am skeptical that IoT will be a global driver of IT transformation. IoT is industry-specific. Not all organizations will be overwhelmed by thousands of sensors constantly vomiting data that must be processed immediately. I suspect most will not. As I reflected back on the various organizations I’ve supported over the last twenty years, I came up with…wait for it…zero of them that would be significantly impacted by IoT.
I don’t wish to minimize the impact IoT will have on network traffic, analytical workloads, and eventual business decision-making. However, I think the infrastructure vendors are grasping for a new unicorn they can ride into the average enterprise to drive the next big sales cycle. IoT is their current answer.
What will drive the average organization’s IT transformation over the next decade? No one thing. As usual, there will be a lot of “it depends.” But in general, I believe the following will happen.
1. Cost control. DellEMC raised the point that IT today is in optimization mode. That’s a nice way to say that businesses are taking a look at what they’ve got, trimming the fat, and replacing what they can when there’s a clear ROI. Savings are resulting.
DellEMC mentioned that some of that is coming from public cloud, where there’s a 24% savings operating in the public cloud over traditional infrastructure. That was a contextless number — 24% compared to what, exactly? But let’s assume this amount has some basis in reality. 40% of that 24% is being spent on modernization, the first step in DellEMC’s transformation mantra.
DellEMC’s stats underscore my point that cost issues will drive IT transformation as much as anything. Not the need to react to the anticipated tsunami of sensor data. The equation is more simple. Money is being saved. Some of that money can go into improving the infrastructure.
2. Simplification. I could have used the word “agility.” Or perhaps I could have said, “Competitive advantage.” Those words are relevant, but what both of those boil down to in the context of modern IT is simplification. IT is not simple; IT is inherently complex. What’s worse, IT complexity is increasing as programmability and automation capabilities grow. Most enterprises will not invest in the expertise required to make the most of such systems.
Enterprises will outsource as much configuration and operational complexity to their vendor as possible. Thus, we have the rise of converged systems. Networking might be late to this particular party, but the practical upshot of adding programmability to the network is to abstract the complexity away, subsuming it into the IT whole.
3. Flexibility. IT can’t be in the way of business. The opposite is true. IT must enable the business. Making the most of data is the key here. While this “IT enabling business” idea is being talked about a lot of late, the notion is hardly new. With the business coming around to the idea that IT is a business enabler and not merely a cost center, it’s become trendier for the IT department and the business leaders to speak each other’s language.
What do drivers of cost control, simplification, and flexibility add up to? Over time, I believe it adds up to hybrid cloud with a well-polished orchestration layer on top. I think those drivers are plenty sufficient without rubbing the IoT lamp to see if a money genie pops out. Enterprise IT spending will continue apace, perhaps in some different categories than before, with no IoT invocation required.