IT's virtual asset economy

  • Tom Yager (InfoWorld)
  • 09 October, 2006 09:36

The phrase "kid in a candy store" conjures up a dazzling dreamscape of treats and an immediate longing for everything that the kid sees.

Handing independent technology budgets to managers with spending authority is an allowance for a periodic trip to the high-tech candy store. It's wasteful. Redundancies are inevitable, and no one can plan their needs as far ahead as budget cycles demand. Making nontechnical management responsible for IT spending creates a counterproductive culture of ownership of the assets acquired.

On the flip side, you can't just force departments to throw money at IT to spend as IT sees fit. The crew on the loading dock may have better insight than IT into some groups' computing and storage requirements.

I see a way out: Virtualize all assets, and turn managers with spending authority into IT investors. When money is distributed to managers for IT-related purchases, that capital goes to IT with the investor's minimum requirements attached. Ideally, those requirements will be expressed in terms that are accessible to the investors because one of the problems that needs solving is that so few really know what they need -- which is a real boon for the consulting industry. IT gets to decide where the new boxes live and what badge is on them; but new investments always buy the latest hardware, and even though everything is virtually pooled and dynamically provisioned, no investor in the pool ever gets fewer cycles, less memory, smaller network pipes, or less storage than what their investment entitles them to. Conversely, one department can't throttle back its IT investment with the confidence that faster boxes and bigger pools of storage will just appear because other departments paid for them. Everybody gets exactly what they pay for.

Savvy candy store patrons know to shop in groups so that they can try new edibles with the option to trade them later for something more palatable. In a virtual asset economy, it's important to give investors a chance to make mistakes in their choices and to trade virtual assets among themselves.

Manager A thought his solution mix would require tons of storage with full snapshots done daily. He discovers later that standard incremental backups offer sufficient coverage and that his money would have been better spent on aggregated Gigabit Ethernet links among his (virtual) servers. Manager B has aggregated links going to seed, and she'd like to have storage volumes with snapshot backups. So they swap. If IT has to get involved, that might be a deal that has to wait for the next budget cycle. In most cases, the kinds of trades that groups would want to make could be handled from a managerial dashboard.

This idea fits with my overall campaign to bring control of physical assets back to IT, which has to live with the hardware and solution purchasing decisions made by nontechnical management. Managers and users clearly get what they pay for; instrumentation built into virtualization software can identify waste and bottlenecks. Older hardware -- and software that has fallen a couple of releases behind the present -- ends up in a bargain pool. The older gear that draws no new investors might serve for fail-over and batch work, but when someone comes to IT with just a nickel to spend on some long-shot project, those older, affordable resources will be there. A trip to the candy store needn't be traumatic.