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IT standards and cloud: mutually exclusive?

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As some of you may be aware the first wedding anniversary that you celebrate is your paper anniversary which comes just a year after the marriage. A year ago we saw that marriage of IBM’s hardware technology with its software expertise to launch IBM PureSystems – a new generation of expert, integrated systems.

Marriages these days need a lot of planning and rarely come cheap and IBM PureSystems was no exception – the result of $2 billion in R&D and acquisitions by IBM over four years, that combines decades of technology know-how with innovations in the core components of enterprise technology including compute, networking, storage and software – enough to differentiate IBM PureSystems from the rival couplings that other vendors have brought together.

A year on, we invited John Easton from IBM to submit a ‘paper’ (an online one of course) to reflect on how married life is going for IBM PureSystems, and how they are coping with the domestic chores inherent in the Cloud environment that we all live in …

IT standards and cloud: mutually exclusive?

By John Easton, IBM Distinguished Engineer, and CTO for IBM’s Systems & Technology Group in the UK & Ireland

In the rush to cloud computing, very few users give much thought to the challenges of providing the very services they are so eager to consume. They expect rapidly provisioned services delivered to them regardless of who else is making similar requests. Think then, about the challenges to deliver IT with these sorts of attributes.

Key to the cloud provider is keeping costs under control, which explains the drive to ever higher levels of virtualisation, automation and standardisation. It is the latter of these that gives rise to the “bitter taste” that cloud leaves many organisations; they discover cloud services don’t quite meet their business requirements in the same way as the bespoke solutions they are used to.

Many organisations realise the value here and have embarked upon a journey towards standardised IT, but most struggle to make progress. Why is this so difficult? This I feel, is more an organisational or cultural issue rather than a technical one. Many individuals have built their careers installing systems or customising pieces of software to the nth degree. Is there really business value in doing this today? I’d suggest not, yet for this audience, often in positions of influence, there seems to be a fundamental mistrust of anything that infringes upon their domains.

I do wonder whether the challenge arises because these standards are typically set outside of the delivering organisation. In the case of cloud, it’s even worse. The interface to the cloud is often an anonymous web page. There is no-one to talk to. What is needed here is not an arbitrary, remotely enforced standard that suits the cloud provider, but rather one at levels more appropriate to meet business needs: i.e. the ability to set standardisation points in the infrastructure, middleware and data layers.

IBM’s PureSystems family provides just such an ability. They can quickly and reliably deploy “as a service” building upon standardisation at any of these; be that something as simple as a Windows virtual machine or a complex combination of middleware delivering an enterprise BPM environment, the customisation the business demands can then be built upon these underlying standard services.

IBM’s PureSystems family provides… the ability to set standardisation points in the infrastructure, middleware and data layers.

For most organisations, cloud is a hybrid mix of Commodity, Core and Specialist services. Trying to fight it out in the commodity space where differentiation is largely on price alone is already a lost battle: an enterprise cannot achieve the required economies of scale. Consider then those differentiated services where the customisation the enterprise needs can be built upon a standardised platform. This is standardisation that works; giving flexibility to choose how and where standardisation is delivered. Allowing the standards to be defined appropriately, yet still allowing the business to rapidly get the services it needs whilst the IT organisation can focus on their value-add, rather than worrying or arguing about the deployment of those standards (whatever these might be) underpinning these differentiated services.