Alignment: Business, Infrastructure, App & User
Digital infrastructure is part of a complex ecosystem. To ensure the reliability, efficiency, and sustainability of that ecosystem, alignment – between the business, the infrastructure, the app, and the user – is essential.
This is the first in a series of five blog posts reflecting the top-of-mind issues discussed during the most recent Infrastructure Masons Advisory Council meeting. The Advisory Council includes a combination of end user Infrastructure Masons who are responsible for some of the largest and most progressive infrastructure portfolios in the world – and partner Infrastructure Masons who provide a complete view of the industry, with the goal to foster effective collaboration between partners and end users.
Digital infrastructure is a complex ecosystem – from the network and the data center infrastructure at the foundation to the IT hardware to the multi-level software stack, to the endpoint device. And as a complex ecosystem, each component is dependent on the others. That makes alignment essential between the people responsible for the various components of the ecosystem – including the application users themselves.
But alignment is easier said than done.
Lost in translation
One Advisory Council member, an end user talked about how difficult it is to ensure alignment between the data center, the hardware, the network, and the software. “I’m lucky because right now we’re still small enough that I can own the stack. I can see the whole picture. Even still, alignment – trying to get the translation from the shared platform and the apps of what we [the infrastructure team] should deploy and how should we optimize it – is so hard.”
“We’re small enough that I can own the stack. I can see the whole picture. But even with that, alignment is so hard.” –Click to tweet
The end user shared a story that illustrates the difficulty of translating needs on the software side into needs on the infrastructure side: “For nine months my infrastructure team worked with the software engineering team to get alignment on needs. Then in the middle of our colocation RFP process, the engineering team’s needs changed.”
More accurately – the infrastructure team realized their interpretationof the engineering team’s needs had been wrong all along. The problem: mis-translation of the term ‘availability zone.’ As the end user explained, “We made an assumption around availability zones and we were building blocks accordingly. So when we realized we had mis-translated, we had to go back and rearchitect literally the whole thing because it affected the network, the data center power and cooling, the rack design – everything.”
“Mis-translation of the term ‘availability zone’ sent the infrastructure team back to the drawing board – after nine months and multiple RFPs.” – Click to tweet
‘Infrastructure exists because of the apps’
Alignment implies that there may be a degree of compromise. Certainly, alignment requires each party to understand the others’ points of view. Take, for example, how different groups value data. For some, it is essential. For others, it’s a drain on resources. It’s a question that needs constant attention in both data-driven and data-critical businesses.
One partner described his experience at an end user organization with 6,300 applications. “Our CIO said, ‘Our utility bill is too high.’ I said, ‘Reduce the number of apps to reduce cost across the board.’ But that would mean business units would have to accept socialized apps. And that’s a hard sell.” It’s a common dilemma: “The CIO feels the burn of how much money is being spent but then the revenue side of the business says, ‘This data center guy is preventing us from getting 5-10 points additional revenue growth.’”
Another partner suggested that the application user and the app team share responsibility in determining the usefulness of the apps and their data, and managing them accordingly. He suggested that it is a shared social and ethical responsibility to make better decisions about the value of data. “It’s an open-ended challenge that the more data we put into the world the more infrastructure and the more natural resources it requires. And the question is, ‘Is it useful to society?’”
“Infrastructure provides for you because you asked for it, but do you really need it?” – Click to tweet
The answer, often, is absolutely yes. But sometimes it’s no. Do you really need the third version of that pic from 2006 in which everyone has their eyes closed? As one partner asked, “How do we get the message to users, ‘Infrastructure provides for you because you asked for it, but do you really need it?’”
Getting there might require adding cost to a service – say, photo storage – to motivate individuals. “Infrastructure has a hard time defining for human beings what is or is not important. The only way to do that is with the pocketbook.”
“Infrastructure has a hard time defining for human beings what is or is not important. The only way to do that is with the pocketbook.” – Click to tweet
Maybe technology is the answer. For example, machine learning algorithms are being used to suggest more responsible data practices. “There are areas where we can apply smart tech to help people make better decisions,” said one end user. He shared the example of Google prompting users to reexamine how many copies of a similar photo are necessary, or reminding users they can archive images of documents and screenshots.
Coming soon: Regulation?
Regulation may well play a future role in ensuring alignment between infrastructure, software, and users – especially given the increasingly serious implications associated with failure in this complex ecosystem. “As the world goes more digital and we have a greater impact on the economy, the impact of faults or failures intensifies,” said one partner.
“As economies grow more dependent on technology, legal and social implications force the data center industry to examine its role and responsibilities.” – Click to tweet
The partner added, “Whether it’s autonomous vehicles or IoT, smart cities, or healthcare, there are legal implications of faults and failures. We’ve already seen them. Government regulation – public scrutiny, at a minimum – is going to affect how we operate. We have to be aware and somehow build it into the ecosystem.”
Other partners agreed. “They’re not applying regulation yet, but they will,” said one. “We should help shape that policy.”
Digital infrastructure is part of a complex ecosystem on which the global economy, our livelihoods – even our lives – depend. Ensuring that the system is sustainable in the long term – efficient and reliable – is the responsibility of all parties, from the creators of the technologies to the end users, and the digital infrastructure leaders at the foundation of it all.
Come back next week for the second installment in our 2018 top-of-mind series and hear from the Advisory Council on cloud versus colocation.