Dawn of the SDE
What do modern businesses want? Efficiency, agility and innovation. They want tasks to be completed as efficiently as possible, without compromising quality. They want the agility required to respond to market variations and changes in customer needs as speedily as their competitors. And when working in an efficient and agile environment, they're more likely to have the time to come up with innovative ideas and strategies.
Imagine for a moment how impossible it would be to achieve these things were your business restricted to the systems, technologies and ways of working that were commonplace in the' 80s or '90s. Undoubtedly, it wouldn't be long before your business falls behind the competition. And understandably so.
According to Brad Pulford, a director for the enterprise solutions group at Dell Computer, traditional infrastructure has always been pretty rigid. Basically, you could only use what you have in front of you. If you have one machine, you can only run one system at a time using this single machine, which was rather limiting when companies needed to scale up as their needs increased. "But in a software-defined environment, resources can be allocated very differently. The benefits of a software-defined approach are numerous, but foremost is that it makes a company's technology resources much more flexible."
In this day and age, the ability to access and manage systems and processes digitally is critical to all aspects of business, notes Monique Williams, Hyland Southern Africa's regional manager. To achieve true efficiency, agility and the ability to innovate, companies are quickly realising that their legacy systems often stand in the way. "This is because legacy applications were built in a different time - often to serve a single purpose - so these tools rarely meet modern criteria necessary to help an organisation achieve its long-term goals." But this doesn't mean that simply replacing legacy systems is the best approach, she cautions.
Given how many core business functions and capabilities lie on legacy systems, abandoning these established systems can be risky, costly and resource-intensive, Williams says. "Replacing legacy systems could very well defeat process efficiency and agility to innovate - the very problems intended to be solved."
Businesses need to start out by evaluating old processes and looking at how they can be streamlined, advises Claude Schuck, regional manager for Africa at Veeam. Eliminating legacy processes removes the guesswork, increases predictability and enables business to be more agile in delivering their products and services. But businesses shouldn't think of this as a quick and easy technology solution to existing company problems. "This is a long and expensive exercise, as it means redesigning old processes, investing in new technology and making sure the business has a platform from which it can launch new services."
For CA Southern Africa's CTO, Andrea Lodolo, deciding how to handle the rise of the software-driven enterprise cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. "Every organisation is different and each will have to build a strategy and architecture to decide how to proceed. The question they need to ask of themselves is, can their current environment be changed or adapted, or does it have to be rewritten, or completely rebuilt to support a software-defined environment." One way to have a more flexible IT environment is to make everything software-defined, but many companies struggle to achieve this flexibility because they're hamstrung by legacy IT, he goes on to say.
Changing role of IT
IT will obviously play the traditional role of implementation, but, more importantly, IT should continuously be on the lookout for new technologies, applications, cloud-based solutions and new ways to use big data, says redPanda's CEO, Gareth Hawkey. In line with this, IT should address how these tools and innovations can be used to drive and deliver on business objectives and how software can be successfully leveraged to make money.
One fundamental, according to Hawkey, is that IT must build an architecture wherein software development is 'uncoupled' from the manacles of the underlying infrastructure. "Only by doing this will the custom software development necessary for next-generation value be facilitated."
Businesses often become complacent in their success and forget that new ideas are the currency they operate on.Matthew Butler, Entelect
Pulford believes that IT's role in an automated, software-driven enterprise is to serve business needs directly. This means less time is spent keeping the engines running. "IT shops are stuck in operational mud. They spend too much time keeping systems alive and being reactive to business needs. Practically all major IT departments at some point had to redirect business requests because they simply don't have the capacity and priority for those projects. But the more an environment can be automated and flex through software-defined norms, the easier it becomes for IT to become an active provisioner of technology services to their company."
From the bottom up?
While many believe that a software-driven enterprise is not something you can build from the bottom up, some argue the very opposite. "In many modern businesses that are software defined, the true innovation didn't come from executive plans or strategies. It came from the freedom to experiment and apply creativity at much lower levels - from those who are 'closest to the tools'," says Matthew Butler, GM of managed services at Entelect. And this often comes down to business culture. Companies need to develop a culture where employees have an appetite for risk and are encouraged to adopt a learn-as-you-go approach to coming up with innovative ideas and trying new things. "We don't believe in buying innovation. It's not a commodity - but a recipe," he continues.
Pulford shares this sentiment. Companies must ensure they have a healthy innovation culture. He points out that at Amazon, no idea can be rejected unless it's accompanied by a detailed essay outlining exactly what is wrong with the idea. As such, any questionable ideas without an essay are explored. "Businesses often become complacent in their success and forget that new ideas are the currency they operate on. Even if these ideas are seemingly small, such as automating intensive manual processes or vastly reducing the processing of batch jobs, they can have a massive impact on what the business does next. Innovation should be alive at every level of the company."
The shift is a journey, with destinations determined by business challenges, says Pulford. "For change to happen, the enterprise must first define what the outcome should be, then look at the different solutions that can aid it in accomplishing these goals."
Datacentres and the SDE
Veeam's Claude Schuck believes that the software-driven enterprise starts with the modern datacentre.
To be successful and stay relevant in this changing market, datacentres must manage the complex balance of traditional, commodity-based infrastructure requirements against the delivery of future, software-driven platforms and capabilities, notes Schuck. "The software-defined datacentre has been a huge trend in recent years - thanks in part to the popularity of virtualisation." So what does this datacentre look like?
According to Schuck, modern datacentres:
* Provide an effective way to scale
* Offer access to new market opportunities
* Drive and deliver innovation for growth
* Make it possible to connect the supply chain of an organisation at scale
* Provide digital services over geographically dispersed markets
"There is a huge appetite across enterprises to utilise innovation for competitive advantage and this places a huge burden on businesses to deliver access to services, data and apps, at any time and from anywhere."
Trapped by legacy
The problem most existing businesses have is that their legacy or existing environments are just not flexible enough, states CA Southern Africa's Andrea Lodolo.
So how do these companies migrate from their legacy IT? This is the real question. And here are a few options:
* Rip and replace (this may be too disruptive and risky)
* Build a parallel IT environment and migrate as it becomes ready and mature (probably best to do one application or service at a time)
* Use the cloud to migrate services
* Leave existing processes on legacy systems and build everything new onto new software-defined platforms
* Combinations of any of the above
"Businesses must remember, warns Lodolo. "that you cannot simply buy software-defined technology, but you can buy technology that will support software-defined components of the enterprise, which will, in turn, support the business's underlying operational strategy."
Digital transformation: a corporate priority
The 2017 Veeam Availability Report shows that 69% of global enterprises feel that availability (continuous access to services) is a requirement for digital transformation; however, the majority of senior IT leaders surveyed (66 %) feel these initiatives are being held back by unplanned downtime of services caused by cyber-attacks, infrastructure failures, network outages, and natural disasters (with server outages lasting an average of 85 minutes per incident).
The study also found that while many organisations are still "planning" or "just beginning" their transformational journeys, more than two thirds agree that these initiatives are critical or very important to their C-suite and lines of business.
The same report shows that more and more companies are considering cloud as a viable springboard to their digital agenda, with software as a service investment expected to increase by over 50 % in the next 12 months. Almost half of business leaders (43 %) believe cloud providers can deliver better service levels for mission-critical data than their internal IT processes. Investments in Backup-as-a-Service (BaaS) and Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) are expected to rise similarly as organisations combine them with cloud. As businesses evolve, there will be more demands on vendors to provide software and services to meet the expectations of the next generation of innovators.
This article was first published in the July 2017 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.