2014: A game changing year for IT

I returned from HP Discover to find Christmas round the corner and my family curious about my "little jaunt" to Barcelona. It felt like I'd packed about a month's worth of time into a few days. The conference enabled me to meet a wide variety of people from all sorts of different organisations, giving an insight into their view of IT today. Through these interactions, strongly related themes emerged that show how far we’ve come in the last couple of years, and the effect they will have on the future of our industry:

  • The shift in thinking about hardware, recognising that constant data growth has to be supported within the absolute ceiling of the supply of power.
  • The shift towards the virtual, and from data to information.

We are now seeing the real impact of these shifts, and organisations that embrace this kind of change are the ones most likely to fly high this year and in the future. As Meg Whitman said at the conference, you stay ahead not by evolving old technology, but by changing the game.

 

Hardware revolution

So the first shift is in hardware. We constantly collect more and more data, and then have to make sense of it. We're only taking our first baby-steps in terms of truly realising the potential of data, but even so, the more data we have, the more servers we need to manage it.

 

However, there's an absolute constraint—that of power. Cost of power is an important factor, but actually getting access to sufficient power has become a critical concern. This can, to some extent, be addressed by having more—possibly smaller—data centres in multiple locations, but this drives costs up.

 

Cutting down on HP data centres

Scott Anderson, VP of Compute Services at HP, talked about his approach to this problem at the conference. Involving significant consolidation, an asset retirement programme and a network redesign, the company's IT infrastructure went from over 85 data centres down to just six. Using HP Moonshot servers, there will be no need to build new data centres in the future. See the video here.

 

Clearly this kind of reorganisation needs careful planning, some high-level backing and the funding to make it happen. However, the alternative is to constrain the business broadly to today’s compute power and storage capacity—evolution not revolution.

 

In the mid- to longer term, this kind of approach will have a dramatic impact on the ability to meet the demands of business on the IT infrastructure. Keeping costs down can’t hurt either.

 

The North wind doth blow

HP also took a novel approach by investing in its data centre in Northeast England. The abundant cool wind blowing off the North Sea is used to keep the data centre cool. HP’s Wynyard centre is 40 percent more energy-efficient than conventional data centres due to the use of naturally cool air to keep control of the temperature.

 

Google have followed this approach by investing in its data centre in Finland. The chilly climate offers a cheap means of keeping the data centre cool, while Finland’s abundant hydroelectricity further enhanced the site’s green credentials.

As power becomes more expensive – at least in the short to medium term – and while its availability remains finite, these kinds of fresh thinking are going to be the means by which IT organisations can keep up with business demands.

 

Virtual shift

The shift towards the virtual is becoming main-stream. With business units embracing the cloud, pay as you go (PAYG) and software as a service (SaaS), we're seeing organisations becoming more agile as a result. Despite the potential pitfalls of the "shadow IT" I mentioned in my previous post, this trend is going to continue.

 

A few examples of the trend towards the virtual stood out at HP Discover:

 

The knowledge economy

Facebook's CIO, Tim Campos, discussed the shift to a knowledge-based economy, with the company recognising that their most valuable data asset is the relationships they record between Facebook users. Facebook are deploying technology to derive insights and knowledge based on these relationships, and it is this kind of analysis that is critical to realising revenue opportunities while developing and growing the company.

 

Tim commented that a key role of any IT organisation must be to refine the data they hold and then develop processes to extract information. It's information that drives the company, either by improving services or by information becoming a product in its own right.

 

Earth’s early warning system

The HP Earth Insights project with Conservation International brings home the point that “People need nature—nature doesn’t need people”, to quote Harrison Ford, Vice-chair of Conservation International in a video message during the keynote session at the HP Discover conference. HP Earth Insights provides an early warning system for the planet, giving global insight into the impact that mankind is having.

 

This information is presented from huge amounts of data collected across the globe, and is presented to anyone, anywhere. As Harrison Ford mentioned, "You can't manage what you can't measure," so this information is a critical step on the road to managing our impact on the world.

 

Using social media to predict problems

I heard from one services organisation using technology that enables them to monitor multiple data sources to identify problems before they have been formally reported to a helpdesk. By analysing call centre volumes, chat and social media, they have been able to identify issues in their IT and network infrastructure before the classic static monitors in the operations centres trigger alerts to problems.

 

Interesting times

With a whole raft of influences on IT at the moment—a hardware revolution; mobility; the availability of compute power; the shift to the virtual; and the pressure to get more for less—it is indeed an interesting time for our industry.

 

As organisations transform to meet—and drive—the needs of the knowledge economy, the IT industry has a pivotal role in making sense of the ever-increasing quantities of data we have available to us.

 

Having the right tools in place to make this happen, enabling the business to transform and stay at the top, is of critical importance. While choosing these tools may represent difficult decisions, it is certain that the status quo is not an option.

 

What’s on your agenda for 2014? Do your data centres continue to grow? Are you looking at how to get more from your data?

 

Next time, I’ll be looking at how the analysis of live data is benefitting organisations and people in general.

 

Alastair Corbett leads HP’s UK&I Software Business Unit and has responsibility for its strategy, the promotion and selling of the IT Performance Suite and related services. Prior to this role, Alastair was responsible for defining the new sales strategy and go-to Market models for Worldwide Software Sales, and before that, he successfully led the Worldwide Services Operations team for HP Software. Alastair joined HP from Peregrine as a result of the acquisition in 2005, where he held the role of VP International Operations and was responsible for all Finance and Operations activities in EMEA and APJ. He also led the integration activity for EMEA, as well as leading the Sales Operations function.

 

Related links:

Keeping the lights on in a competitive world

“I’m on the train”: How mobile technologies impact business

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