One of the great paradoxes of technology is that the more successful it is, the more invisible it becomes.
Car technology is a case in point. Let me tell you a story to back up my thinking.
In my off hours, I’m the proud caretaker of a 60-year-old Morris Minor.
I say ‘caretaker’ deliberately, because a vintage car like this has never been a low-maintenance commitment, even when fresh off the production line. To keep this classic car in a reliable, running condition, I must change the oil regularly and keep a constant eye on the brakes, suspension and cooling systems. She also needs a full service every 3,000 miles.
Let’s just say that driving this car is an adventure.
Of course, adventures are not everyday occurrences. Synonymous with risk, daring, incident, hazard and uncertainty, a thrilling journey isn’t what you’d want to experience on a busy motorway. So, to limit the possibility of peril and ensure arriving at a destination safely and on time, I stick to my boring, modern car.
When it comes to my work, the last thing I want is a charming, but quirky Morris Minor of a data centre. At work stability and consistency drive progress, and the words “exciting” and “server” should never be used in the same sentence.
In our data centre operations, the philosophy is this: pursue a state of nirvana while being practically invisible to the rest of the business. No downtime, ever. No attention-grabbing scheduled maintenance either. What absolutely wins is seamless agility in storage and compute, adjusted to demand as it happens.
The current collective capability of technology is well placed to enable this kind of invisibility right now. But despite obvious technical competence, this level of agility is not commonplace.
In 2020, I had a close-up view of how boring, low-maintenance IT infrastructure helped some organisations thrive, while others merely survived.
Our customers, already well on their way in their respective journeys to invisibility, were able to adapt to lockdowns and remote working without missing a beat. This, thanks to the high rate of tailor-made combinations of on-premises and cloud infrastructure among our customer base.
They all had the right infrastructure in place to burst into the cloud for extra capacity when workloads surged. They also had the ability to accommodate the sudden 24/7 demands of a workforce adjusting to remote working (and added home schooling).
In direct contrast, challenges stacked up for those who weren’t ready and tried to manage on band-aid solutions. This year, we’re expecting several of our customers to focus on improving the resilience and flexibility of their infrastructure.
Why, you may ask. The answer is simple: it is crystal clear that IT systems like data centres relate to the resilience and flexibility of the entire business.
The good news is that an investment in IT isn’t only about insurance and risk mitigation. It’s also about increasing the innovative ability of the business.
When your data is, for example, backed up to the cloud, it’s no longer just a backup but also a usable resource. Link it to an analytics platform with machine learning capabilities, and you have a deep source of added value for your entire organisation. This, with the ability to learn more about your customers, your supply chains, your internal process and anything else that matters.
This is just the tip of the kinds of amazing that ‘dull’ data centres can unlock and enable. Rewind to March 2020 and see how hard it was to book a slot for online grocery deliveries. Now, I am spoilt for choice on slots for the next day.
In less than a year, supermarkets have transformed from businesses that were 70% in-store to 70% online—and they didn’t do it by buying entire new infrastructure systems. They did it through the flexible systems they already had in place.
In addition to rapid business transformation, ‘boring’ data centres also enable excellent service development and delivery. It takes nearly 25 minutes for most people to refocus on a task after an interruption—and taking time out to provision, maintain or otherwise attend to one’s tools is, by definition, an interruption.
Today’s best-practice IT infrastructure is predictable, standardised, largely automated and supremely flexible. As we learned last year, there are some kinds of disruption for which we cannot really plan. However, with the world likely to grow increasingly unpredictable, it’s comforting to know that in our data centres, at least, we can make invisible miracles seem boring every day.
Pete Hulme - Practice Lead, Hybrid Infrastructure at CDW
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