Many IT departments raised their clout in 2020. Now they need to change their mindset as they steer their business into the digital future.
The cost centers that supplied computing resources in years past must evolve into innovation centers that use digital tools to reinvent organizations, according to Steven Kaplan, vice president for customer success finance at Nutanix, which specializes in enterprise cloud software.
“You either change or you're going to be in big, big trouble — if you're not already,” he said. “There's a lot more pressure to disrupt everything.”
These days, disruption is more than a buzzword that gets tossed around. The democratization of data and technology makes it much easier for companies of any size to reinvent themselves and reshape their markets.
Kaplan has seen his share of disruptors. His decades of enterprise IT experience include co-founding a company that specialized in implementing data center virtualization, which was one of the most fruitful IT disruptions of the past 20 years.
Since coming to Nutanix in 2013, Kaplan has developed a specialty in helping IT leaders understand the ROI of another disruptor: cloud computing. Known as ROIdude on Twitter, Kaplan published an expansive book, The ROI Story, in 2019.
In 2021, he plans to start a new book that will use his ROI-based expertise to help IT people move beyond keeping the lights on to focus on achieving and improving business outcomes. That means leveraging the flexibility of cloud tools — especially hybrid and multicloud capabilities — to develop innovative, customer-pleasing applications and services while always keeping an eye on the financial bottom line.
As Kaplan likes to put it, leaders need to be cloud smart, not cloud-first.
What an IT Center of Innovation Looks Like
Hybrid cloud and multicloud environments give IT people the agility to pivot quickly in changing markets. That’s the heart of enabling innovation. Some companies, of course, are already innovating this way.
Consider the case of Tesla. As every Silicon Valley techie who owns one will attest, a Tesla is more than a car powered by batteries and electric motors. It’s a four-wheeled computing device, using digital technology in every phase of production, service and operation.
That creates a new standard for legacy automakers, who can turn this disruption to their advantage.
“Now, they have a template to follow,” Kaplan said.
Car and truck manufacturers worldwide can deploy next-gen digital technologies from the assembly line to the repair shop to the showroom.
“There are massive opportunities that IT can drive,” he added.
These forces are likely to affect every sector of the economy. Machine learning, edge computing, 5G networks and IoT sensors will give everybody the tools to transform. And cloud services, which give developers massive flexibility to spin up development environments, will be right in the center of it.
Embracing the Next Phase of Virtualization
To see how cloud software enables the push to develop IT innovation centers, it helps to revisit the history of virtualization, which uses software to emulate hardware operations. Virtual machines are much easier to create, install and configure than their hard-wired counterparts.
Kaplan took his knowledge of virtualization to Nutanix, where his job now centers on helping IT practitioners make the most productive use of his employer’s virtualization tools. Founded in 2009, Nutanix rose to prominence for its development of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), which virtualizes compute, networking and storage on commodity servers.
Thus, virtualization stands at the center of Nutanix’s business model, which leans heavily on cloud technologies to organize and manage virtual machines in private, on-premises data centers and in the public cloud, on platforms like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
Lately, Nutanix and its competitors in the HCI space have been building tools for hybrid multicloud architectures, which allow applications and workloads to shift easily between public and private clouds as needed. This is a significant advancement.
“Just like HCI abstracted the need for dedicated SAN (storage area network) hardware, apps can now run on multiple public cloud platforms without refactoring them,” said Kaplan.
In September 2020, Kaplan co-authored a white paper exploring the benefits of a Nutanix tool called Clusters that enables hybrid multicloud architectures on AWS bare-metal instances (a version for Azure is in the works). Kaplan and his co-author discovered that Clusters could generate notable cost savings under certain conditions, which inspired them to write the white paper.
But there was more to the story than trimming expenses.
“Clusters makes it easy to move between clouds or back on-prem,” Kaplan said. “Businesses don’t need native apps because Clusters takes legacy apps and runs them efficiently and cloud mobility.”
This simplicity means IT teams do not need experts in multiple public cloud architectures. Users of multicloud software don’t have to wait months to refactor apps for Azure or AWS. They can manage multiple clouds from a single management plane, quickly and easily rearranging things depending on real-time needs.
Thus, multicloud architectures enable the speed and flexibility that will prove essential in the push to making IT a center of innovation.
“It’s like the early days of virtualization where virtual machines abstracted applications from dedicated physical servers,” Kaplan said. “It's what makes sense for hybrid cloud architecture.”
Sounding a Note of Caution on the Public Cloud
Kaplan issues stern warnings to CIOs thinking of embracing public cloud platforms: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Highly volatile workloads that cause temporary spikes in demand may be the best choice for the public cloud, while steady, reliable demands are more economical on-prem.
As Kaplan noted in an article at Forbes.com, public cloud decisions always have three key factors to consider:
- Security – Public cloud platforms require learning new security skills and practices. It’s not that the public cloud is less or more secure by nature — it’s just different. Understanding the differences is essential.
- Migration and hidden costs: It takes skill and preparation to migrate apps and workloads to the cloud successfully. IT leaders have to understand the tradeoffs in price and performance in public and on-prem environments
- Immobility risks – Building apps natively in the cloud can lock in specific technologies, making it costly and time-consuming to adapt down the road. Services like Clusters create an abstraction layer that streamlines cloud mobility.
Kaplan notes that over the years, IT leaders often ask him which cloud technology to choose.
"That's the wrong question,” he said. “The question is, what do you need to do as a business? What do you need to accomplish?”
His advice: Start with basic challenges like customer pain points, in-house skills and resource limitations. Then establish the organization’s ultimate destination and work back from there, matching technology to business requirements.
Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.
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