Old-school businesses may not like it, but they’re competing with Google, Facebook, Amazon and other Internet powerhouses because those players have grown from day one with an eye on rapid, scalable, cloud-based and continuous IT operations.
Companies have been running application delivery aligned to an aging model based on low frequency release cycles. For decades, the major IT suppliers like Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP and others have released software at the predictable, plodding cadence of annual or bi-annual releases. IT departments have adapted to the vendor release cycles with mirror-like processes: highly structured in the ITIL fashion with processes in place for working around lots of bugs that don’t get readily fixed by the vendors. Yet this delivery management model is now out of pace in today’s always-connected, Internet-based world in which apps and sites morph on a weekly or even daily basis.
Suddenly, companies and vendors alike must change what they’ve been doing for years. They need to transform operations and products from the legacy-based delivery model to one which is faster, dynamic and proactive. But that’s hard for most companies. It’s like driving a 1979 Chevy pickup on the Autobahn. You can’t keep up with the pace of traffic, no matter how hard you try.
Companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Netflix, born as Internet-age companies, don’t have the same problems adapting to modern times in which consumers expect instantaneous response times. They were built from the ground up to handle the relentless pace of technological change: their infrastructure and applications automatically shift according to network and CPU conditions and workload spikes. Such companies are masters at Web-Scale IT, and rely upon a multitude of open source and web-based technologies designed for distributed computing. More than just technology it also takes radically new processes and mindsets to become a Web-Scale IT company.
Operating in the Web-Scale World
Web-Scale IT consists of technologies and methodologies that enable developers to build, change and scale applications 10 to 100 times faster than in the past. Web-Scale IT relies upon many modern concepts, including cloud computing, peer-to-peer architecture, NoSQL, SOA, Agile development, DevOps, Continuous Delivery and Deployment and more. Gartner describes Web-Scale IT as “a pattern of global-class computing that delivers the capabilities of large cloud service providers within an enterprise IT setting.” The research firm predicts that by 2017, Web Scale IT will be an architectural approach found in 50 percent of global enterprises, up from less than 10 percent in 2013. Below are a few areas of change that IT organizations must navigate to make the shift.
1. Reevaluate IT partners. It’s not just CIOs that need to shift operations for Web-scale computing. The legacy IT vendors are struggling to walk away from profitable business models based on licensing to embrace the on-demand, services-based revenue that just a few years ago, catapulted startups like Salesforce.com into billion-dollar enterprises. The legacy vendors are unable to innovate fast enough and are having to rely on serial acquisitions to keep their technology relevant. Yet rapid acquisition comes at a great price and is not sustainable. IT departments will need to look far and wide to find the best partners that can support their Web-Scale IT efforts moving forward.
2. Acquire diverse, open-source based IT operations tools: CIOs will likely need to constantly review their technology sourcing and have a more critical method of choosing their technology partners. Relying on a few trusted long-term partners will likely not achieve the Web-scale IT goal. Consider that Netflix, which now runs its business almost exclusively on Amazon AWS, only a few years ago relied on its own datacenters full of legacy vendor equipment. Today, the company manages its high-availability video streaming business using a collection of inhouse-developed open source tools (coined The Simian Army) that test the fault tolerance of the company’s operations. Being flexible and open to change allows Web Scale companies to keep ahead of the competition. Standing still, even for a short while, is no longer an option.
3. Foster iterative, collaborative processes: Strong DevOps cultures, where developers and IT operations personnel exchange information frequently to stay in step with changing business requirements, is also pivotal to making this shift. Companies with advanced DevOps practices are usually committed to running their businesses differently: more efficiently, more customer-focused and with the keen ability to respond quickly to change. CIOs and CTOs need people with strong Web technology skills yet also an unflinching commitment to collaboration and complex problem-solving. IT people today need to think on their feet and adapt as they go. Twelve-month planning cycles are out the window.
The building of a storm
Just a few years ago, it was considered evolutionary, if not revolutionary, to purchase CRM or HR as a service. That’s commonplace today. The next area for innovation is within core applications such as a retailer’s pricing application or a bank’s market forecasting tool. Those applications must now also run at Web Scale to be responsive, customer focused and speedy. Don’t count on your Oracle or SAP database to shift so easily or quickly—at least not yet. That’s why Internet leaders are managing IT infrastructure using the newer generation of Web Scale technologies including Puppet, Chef, AppDynamics, New Relic and yours truly, Boundary.
If running at Web Scale sounds overly complex, it’s not. Since most of the latest, open source-based operational tools are highly automated, using them is actually simpler. Crowdsourcing is another strategy that companies are exploring for Agile development projects. The bigger hurdle is in moving from the old-fashioned software development style of over-engineering everything to the more intuitive, iterative style that characterizes modern Web application development. With Web-Scale IT, it’s okay to cut corners and take more risks, because the infrastructure will stand behind you.
There are plenty of people who’ll disagree with me, but I can envision a world in which the Oracles and IBMs no longer run most of the companies in the world. — one that is adaptive, business-responsive and always forward-looking. The future is closer than we think. Will your business evolve?