This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.
In the silly season of the late ‘90s, while sock puppets and trading exchanges dominated the headlines, a quiet revolution transformed our global supply chains. We now remember it as an era of dubious distinction that embodies the irrational exuberance of the time. But it did teach us a great deal about agile value chains, and it now informs our most successful business models.
The rise of a global marketplace on the web forced us to think differently about sourcing, manufacturing and delivery. It made us to reconcile the economics of profit-seeking business models with practices that would support rapid fulfillment of diverse global demand.
At the heart of this transformation was standardization – normalizing parts, process and policies to drive economies of scale, enable automation, and simplify fulfillment and aftermarket support.
The same dynamic is playing out in today’s data centers. The variable economics and instant gratification of the cloud are forcing enterprise IT and managed service providers to transform their supply chains and fulfillment processes to accommodate growing on-demand expectations.
For all the discussion, debate and commentary on the cloud transformation, there has been relatively little analysis of the role of standardization. The truth is that standardization is the primary driver for all of the benefits that flow from cloud computing.
It’s this premise that inspired the Enterprise Cloud Adoption Framework, the first adoption model to look at the cloud journey through the crucial lens of standardization.
This framework helps guide the progressive standardization of compute, network and storage infrastructure and the operating system and middleware software platforms that enable applications. Ultimately, the goal is to help drive IT providers toward delivery models that are automated, agile and abstracted – where the focus is on applications, not the underlying muck.
Standardization forces tradeoffs between flexibility and control. Unstandardized environments are the very definition of flexibility – at the sacrifice of speed, economy and quality. Fully standardized environments deliver all the goodness of speed and economy, but place rigid constraints on customer requirements.
That’s why it’s a transformation that must be made in a progressive, stepwise fashion.
And that’s the purpose of the Enterprise Cloud Adoption Framework: to help cloud builders navigate infrastructure standardization decisions and tradeoffs in environments involving diverse infrastructure, in which infrastructure is fragmented and non-standard, which fulfills the varied requirements of internal customers, but sacrifices speed, control and cost efficiency; standard infrastructure in which infrastructure resources are pooled across departments and user communities to improve utilization and economies of scale and in elastic infrastructure, in which infrastructure is pooled and further standardized as a set of T-shirt-sized options (e.g., small, medium and large) with corresponding pricing, service levels, etc.
Likewise, it guides decisions and tradeoffs for standardizing application platforms
where custom platforms are assembled as one-offs to meet the specific requirements of complex applications; where platforms are consolidated down to a finite number of well-defined options to enable end user flexibility, while also providing a basis for automation; and where a single, unified platform becomes the only choice for applications, providing a high degree of simplicity, speed and cost effectiveness at the expense of flexibility.
You may recognize this last stage as the very definition of platform as a service, a highly abstracted developer interface that turns IT into the black box it was always meant to be.
It’s an inspiring idea, but it’s also an approach that puts a straightjacket on developers, treating applications like bonsai that were born to fit a precise container. The reality is that enterprise application portfolios are full of kudzu, leveraging every nook and cranny of their environments. That’s why most companies aren’t prepared to take advantage of the full promise of PaaS.
Turning IT into a black box is indeed the inspiration and aspiration for next-generation IT delivery models. But as the Enterprise Cloud Adoption Framework illustrates, you can’t get there overnight. It’s a transformation that unfolds in the fullness of time through a disciplined, stepwise journey over progressive stages of infrastructure and platform standardization. The good news is that each stage yields cost and agility benefits that get you ever closer to truly on-demand IT.
Edited by Brooke Neuman