Working with Legacy IT – Modernization Options for Digital Infrastructure

I recently spoke at the AFCOM Data Center World Conference in Chicago. One of the topics I touched on was saving thousands of dollars by adjusting the ASHRAE set temperature points within the data center. Even a couple of degrees upward in temperature can save organizations thousands. After the presentation, an attendee came up to me and let me know that they tried doing this very initiative; but began to experience some serious hardware issues.

Why? They were running 7-year-old data center gear.

“We are at an inflection point as digital transformation efforts shift from ‘project’ or ‘initiative’ status to strategic business imperative,” said Frank Gens, Senior Vice President, and Chief Analyst at IDC. “Every (growing) enterprise, regardless of age or industry, must become ‘digital native’ in the way its executives and employees think, what they produce, and how they operate. At the same time, digital transformation is happening much faster than most expected, and early competitive advantages will go to those enterprises that can keep pace with the emerging digital transformation economy.”

This level of digitization is happening on all fronts, with cloud solutions helping lead a trillion-dollar effort. Gartner recently indicated that more than $1 trillion in IT spending would be directly or indirectly affected by the shift to cloud alongside other modernization efforts during the next five years.

Still, even with all of this modernization, I find that organizations from all walks of life are challenged to understand how they can bridge the gap between legacy and next-generation, digital, IT solutions.

These trends also signal a watershed where the remaining business-critical and platform-dependent applications (that cannot be replaced) must be shifted to allow user-centric computing. This translates to the ability to modernize, respond faster to market trends, and work at a faster business pace.

With all of this in mind – how do you bridge legacy IT with new business and technology goals? The good news is that there are powerful platforms that can help create that bridge and allow us to get along.

  • What to do with challenging applications. There’s a decent chance that you have an app or workload that can’t move or be migrated. Maybe it can’t even be virtualized? Working with applications and legacy data points can be a real challenge. In these situations, you’ll need to understand your business’s direction and the value of the challenging application.
    In some cases, this means running analysis to see if the application can be moved into the cloud, modified for virtualization, or if it needs to be upgraded in general. Hanging on to a legacy application just because it works is not a great reason to let the app live. It could be slowing your business process, creating a poor user experience, or even causing security issues. In some cases, you might have to rip the bandage off and move to a new platform.
  • Try cloud and automation for those legacy services. In working with older applications and data center services, you quickly find that they’re really limited to the functions assigned. The scope of their capabilities is pretty paltry. Next-generation automation and orchestration services dive deep into applications, desktops, virtual workloads, and even the data center to help organizations respond faster to market shifts. If you have siloed processes or operations working around legacy IT services – look for new tools that can integrate older components with your newer infrastructure. For example, solutions around ITSM and ITOM are allowing organizations to shift many of their legacy data center services into the cloud. By removing these aging pieces of infrastructure services – you can integrate newer services and have a better field of vision into your entire ecosystem.
  • Better management can help with legacy IT. Legacy IT can be extremely fragmented and complex. Because of this, significant challenges revolve around visibility, management, and monitoring. In many cases, customers don’t even know the full extent of their legacy IT infrastructure. Good management tools can give granular visibility into your entire business and IT platform. From there, you can identify legacy IT components, how they impact your data center, and where you can make real-world changes. Deep analytics can help you find everything from poorly configured servers to an unpatched switch in an almost forgotten network closet. By utilizing better infrastructure management, legacy IT admins have a clearer picture of the components they might need to migrate or upgrade. This means less guessing and better capabilities around making good decisions.
  • You don’t have to throw it all out – integration is a good option. The idea isn’t just to rip out an older piece of your infrastructure. Some older systems need to be integrated into your digital framework. Just look at what IBM has done with their AS400 platform and integration capabilities with things like cloud and big data. Yes, you’ll need to plan around this type of migration and identify your legacy IT systems’ pain points. Still, new IT components can easily be deployed in parallel to legacy IT to ensure the transition or integration is least disruptive and most beneficial to IT, users, and the business. This integration or transition can be done via management tools, cloud integration, and even virtualization. Most of all – this does not have to be a complicated process. The entire process can be very empowering for all associates, IT leaders, and business stakeholders. By integrating and evolving from legacy IT, you learn more about your organizations and the capabilities you require to support an emerging market.
  • Explore new compute and converged options. Just because you might have an app or service that’s considered legacy does not mean your hardware has to be. As part of a modernization effort, IT leaders must closely examine the kinds of workloads they’re running and the associated physical pieces of the data center. Working with converged or hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) allows you to create greater density levels, work with dynamic hardware and software provisioning profiles, and deploy modern applications alongside legacy instances. Too often, there is a misconception that a legacy workload must remain on the old server that’s it’s been running on forever. Leaving legacy apps on legacy gear can actually compound your challenges in the near-term. These challenges can range from resiliency issues to security flaws in older equipment. If you have to retain a legacy app or service, see if you can at least move it to more efficient and agile hardware. HCI options are great to run modern workloads alongside legacy instances.

If you still have legacy components in your data center, please don’t think that you’re alone. Many companies from all walks of IT life are always finding ways to become a more significant part of the digital revolution. An ongoing process, in my opinion. However, you can’t ignore the process of digital transformation. It’ll catch up to you if you miss it, or it can empower you if you embrace it. Evolving legacy IT is something organizations will continuously have to work with. However, this isn’t a journey you have to go on alone. Cloud providers, partners, and new technologies are all ready to help your unique use-cases and help you evolve. The big point here is that you get on this digital journey sooner rather than later.

Posted in IT

The Personalization of the Workforce: Finding the Work from Home Balance

There’s nothing normal about any of this. Many in the workforce, who never in a million years would have thought that they’d be working from home persistently, are now trying to keep the door closed from loud children and pets who are seemingly much happier now that you’re around so often. In fact, for many of these people working remotely, the phrase that sums up most of their professional life in 2020 is, simply, “You’re on mute.”

In the updated edition (from October) of the AFCOM State of the Data Center report, we found that more than half of those with changes in their workplace (54%) believe their workforce’s current makeup will become permanent. In probing a bit further, the nearly 20% that say they weren’t sure may be falling into that remote work category as well.

Looking more broadly, several large enterprises have either made working remotely permanent or extended indefinitely. The list includes Google, Microsoft, REI, Uber, American Express, Twitter, Square, Facebook, and many others. In a survey from 451 research, 67% of respondents expect that their work-from-home policies will become permanent, or at least remain in place for the long term.

That’s a lot of people working from home. Quite possibly, you included. People face an entirely new paradigm when it comes to doing your job productively, from home. Some are seasoned pros at this, but this is an entirely new way to work for many others. People aren’t the only ones trying to figure all of this out.

For companies of all sizes, the big question becomes clear-cut: How do I keep all of these people productive and happy?

In many, if not almost all of those cases, technology holds the key.

Innovation is Now About Survival

For the past few years, one of the leading buzz words floating around was ‘innovation.’ For some, it was just background chatter. For who listened and understood what it meant to innovate based on the context of their own business and how this impacts them in the future are the ones that are surviving right now.

The organizations that adopted modernization efforts to support both business and user productivity were simply better equipped to support a remote workforce. They did all of this through the personalization of the user experience. They created a platform where settings, functions, features, and entire user environments were no longer dependent on a desktop and cubicle.

To truly personalize a workforce, here’s what some leaders did.

  • Balancing cloud. Research studies have shown that the cloud isn’t here to kill the data center. Many workloads have experienced repatriation back into the data center from the cloud. There’s an indication in the industry that many leaders are finally finding the balance of what should live in a cloud and what should be at a data center. This balance also has massive impacts on how you personalize user experiences. The elasticity of the cloud can help you deliver applications, specific services, and even entire user experiences. Further, cloud services can be leveraged for things like SaaS apps, single sign-on, identity federation, and much more. Now, to unify all of this, we go to the next point.
  • Human-centric experiences. Think about technology from your user’s perspective. That is, how are they consuming it? Technology leaders who saw productivity numbers actually go up focused on how the user was interacting with applications, resources, and content and then looked at ways to make it simpler. So, you could use aggregation portals that give users one point of entry for applications and resources that may have otherwise been scattered around. Or by leveraging tools like application virtualization and delivery (either cloud or on-premise) to create one centralized repository for critical apps.
    Another key point is that many leaders also invested in multi-experience solutions. That is, working with technologies that would allow users to be productive regardless of the device they use.
  • A different perspective on security and managing risk. With so many users now working remotely, the workforce’s security has taken on a whole new meaning. Everything from risk management to controlling IT assets and inventory has been upended. Securing end-points (of any type), ensuring data in transit and rest is locked down, and preventing data loss are all key considerations. The good news is that security solutions can help secure that multi-experience initiative while still maintaining a great user experience. Personalizing the workforce may also mean personalizing user security. That might mean allowing for different types of two-factor authentication or using new technologies that only open a VPN for specific applications. Beyond traditional antimalware solutions, new security designs allow for far more flexibility in how users interact with their resources. This includes everything from network-level security to end-to-end encryption of cloud communication.

It’s easy to get lost going down the technology rabbit hole. But that doesn’t mean you can simply be complacent. When you examine innovation or even broader modernization efforts, you’ll need to take an introspective approach. That is, asking how new technology would impact your users and your organization. That is, innovation is based on context. This will also help you with the challenge of future-proof vs. burden-proof. Just because technology is new and shiny doesn’t always mean it’ll make your life easier. Working with good partners who help you navigate to get to the right solution will allow you to avoid technologies that turn out to be a burden.

Learn how Black Diamond Solutions takes a unique approach to IT, business, and the remote workforce by combining industy-leading solutions to create powerful user experiences.

The 2021 Information Technology Budget: What Leaders are Doing to Creating an Effective Strategy

If 2020 has thrown us any curveballs, it’s that we should be actively expecting the unexpected. It feels that this has been the summary of this entire year. We’ve seen organizations of all sizes become impacted by today’s trends, and many have become far more creative in how they leverage technology to stay ahead.

So, when 2021 budgets were being done, many thought that IT budgets would take a hit despite the criticality of technology. As it turns out, this isn’t the case.

The latest Spiceworks Ziff Davis report shows us some exciting details into what organizations are doing with their technology spending.

Here are some interesting findings:

  • Among all businesses, 64% enabled a remote workforce in 2020. More than half of all companies plan to retain flexible work policies even after the pandemic ends — which will necessitate additional technology investment.
  • 80% of businesses surveyed expect IT budgets to grow or stay steady over the next 12 months.

One of the most interesting findings in the report was the small and medium enterprise segment metrics. Even though economic fluctuations greatly impacted these smaller companies, they’re still investing more dollars into technology.

As the report points out:

Mid-size businesses (100-999 employees) and enterprises are significantly more likely to increase budgets in 2021 due to supporting a remote workforce during COVID-19. Enterprises are significantly more likely to increase IT funds due to changes in business operations during COVID-19 and changes in regulations.

In diving a bit deeper, we saw that this spending on IT, even though it’s increasing, is much different in how dollars are actually allocated to technology. These changes became evident when some small and mid-sized businesses faired better during today’s climate than others. It’s also those organizations that got creative in how they achieved innovation, alongside increasing their IT budget spending.

Here’s what some of those leaders are doing.

Taking the Technology Dollar Further Than Ever Before
Feedback from industry leaders has primarily been that technology continues to serve important purposes for the business. This includes everything from basic back-office operations to ensuring a company can stay alive during uncertain times. However, specific points were made in how the technology dollar is going further and what it’s doing to support a much more digital economy.

  • Remove clutter, and simplify. Complexity can grind a business to a halt. This is especially true in today’s business climate. It’s critical to remove management, infrastructure, software, and even access complexity from your environments. This includes portals, pieces of hardware, end-points, security solutions, and more. Just because something ‘works’ does not mean it’s bringing value to you or your users. Stagnant technology that requires investments needs to have a focus on your budget. Spending money to simplify is a crucial way to become more agile in the digital market.
  • Find your balance between cloud and data center. Neither is here to cannibalize or take away workloads from the other. The good news is that we’re mature enough in the technology that leaders know when to be on-premise versus using the cloud. To that point, if you’re heavily invested in managing a data center, and it’s just burning cash, look to the cloud to offload some of those resources. On the other hand, if you’re experiencing cloud-sprawl and are spending too much on resource costs, look at a colocation or data center partner to offload.
  • There is no more comfort zone when it comes to new technology adoption. This was a key consideration. Leading vendors around converged, hyperconverged, storage, virtualization, and security solutions have all indicated that demos and request for proof-of-concept projects have skyrocketed. And, the time between demo and deployment is much less. The feedback? If there is a technology that can fundamentally revolutionize your business approach and competitive stance in the market, try it out, validate results, and quickly jump on it. You’ll have a lot of success when involving business IT and non-IT personnel in the decision-making process.
  • Convergence, cloud, and virtualization are your friend. Agile organizations remain relevant even in the hardest of times. Companies that have adopted containerization, cloud-based microservices, new virtualization solutions, and converged infrastructure are all seeing their IT investment dollars pay off. For example, convergence allows for a deep reduction in space and infrastructure required to support your business. Virtualization can help you deliver desktops and applications to users leveraging any device, and the cloud can give you the agility to support distributed users and customers. The feedback here is to know where you lack in your business in these areas and what you can do to improve. It’s not just physical infrastructure savings either; there are significant performance gains as well. Converting from legacy spinning disk to all-flash, for example, can help reduce space, create less heat in the data center, and vastly improve user experience.

Finally, there was a significant consensus regarding working with critical gear, which’s sometimes bought second-hand. That is if you’re planning on working with the ‘gray’ market, be very careful. Yes, buying products through the gray market can save you a tremendous amount; but you have to consider the cost. This can be everything from concerns around warranties to unknown tampering before the device went in your rack.

Some things to consider:

  • Only work with trusted and certified OEM partners.
  • Challenge suppliers and validate sources.
  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  • The last thing you want is unsupported or untrusted infrastructure.

More than ever before, organizations are findings ways to get creative with technology. That includes how they spend their IT budgets. We know that technology isn’t going anywhere, and we also know that IT is critical to surviving in a data-driven, digital world. A final point of feedback revolved around simplifying your technology ecosystem. Like our first point earlier, leaders stated that working with good partners helped them make better decisions and improve their technology investments. We’re asking our technology budgets to be stretched and work ever harder for us. A good partner can ensure you allocate those dollars to solutions that bring you as much value to your business and users as possible.

Arguably, that’s the most significant difference. We see fewer ‘nice-to-have’ purchases and far more investment in ‘must-have’ solutions. Like business leaders are doing today, it’ll be essential for you to know where your spending is going and how you can ultimately stretch that technology dollar.

Posted in IT

How Cloud and Virtualization Have Rescued the Small and Medium Enterprise

In working with several different organizations, I’ve seen a broader conversation begin to happen around technology. Business and IT leaders alike ask better questions, forecast IT budgets for their organizations, and are less afraid to try out new technologies.

When it comes to cloud and virtualization, we’ve hit a certain maturity in the market. Specifically, organizations are now better suited to understand what should be on-premise and what should live in the cloud. This has also helped tremendously with agility, innovation, and the capability to support users during very uncertain times.

In a fascinating new report from Spiceworks, we learned that virtualization technologies’ adoption continues to grow. Where server virtualization has pretty much been deployed everywhere and is used by more than 90% of businesses, other virtualization and cloud technologies are picking up steam as well.

Among emerging virtualization technologies, the most common is storage virtualization (also called software-defined storage) with a 40% adoption rate, followed by application virtualization at 39% and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology at 32%. Additionally, network virtualization (also called software-defined networking) and data virtualization each enjoy a 30% adoption rate.

Looking forward, Spiceworks research indicates more than half of businesses plan to use storage virtualization and application virtualization by 2021. Application virtualization is expected to experience the most growth among virtualization technologies, with adoption expected to grow from 39% today to 56% by 2021.

[Image Source: Spiceworks]

Take a second here and think about your business. These organizations see the benefits of virtualizing their systems and abstracting the software layer from the hardware. But where does cloud ultimately come in? For those that get it, cloud and virtualization are heavily overlapping technologies. And, they’ve rescued smaller and medium-sized businesses because they’ve vastly simplified their environments and have allowed them to become more agile.

Cloud and Virtualization: Top Five Reasons This is Worth Your Time and Investment
There is a massive overlap in how these systems work together. You can launch cloud resources, applications, and other vital services right from your virtualization console. Here are five reasons leaders in the business and IT world are seeing the power that cloud and virtualization can bring.

  1. Containers, microservices, and more. You can run containers, microservices, and other functions on-premise within your virtualization ecosystem while still spanning into the cloud. Multi-experience and multi-cloud solutions allow you to integrate what you have on-premise, say VMware, for example, with cloud solutions, like Amazon AWS. There are validated architectures and supported solutions already available. These types of services can reduce your reliance on traditional virtual machines and allow you to run much smaller footprints in terms of services. This is where containers can help.
  2. Already existing and deep integrations between cloud and virtualization. As mentioned earlier, each major cloud provider, GCP, AWS, Azure, IBM, Oracle Cloud, and others have deep integrations with underlying virtualization systems. This showcases the partnerships between these two solutions and how deeply the underlying services are intertwined. Running on a VMware ecosystem, you could deploy a validated architecture right into AWS while still managing everything centrally.
  3. Resiliency, load-balancing, and agility. Between cloud and virtualization, you gain a lot of resiliency. In today’s uncertain times, those organizations that had cloud and virtualization deeply tied in were able to offer their users more options to connect and stay productive. Whether on-premise or in the cloud, the integration between cloud and virtualization allows you to load-balance links, geo-fence users, isolate resources to specific regions, improve user experiences, and ensure that if something happened on-premise, users could still access resources in the cloud.
  4. User personalization. Your users gain a big bump in access, personalization, and improvements in experience when using both cloud and virtualization. You can isolate user profiles and ensure specific settings seamlessly scale between cloud and on-premise. This can include keyboard shortcuts, email systems, applications, and even files. For the administrator, this means creating levels of agility that help keep users productive regardless of the device they use or where they come in from. For users, they get a transparent experience and can stay productive regardless of where they are.
  5. Cost-savings and infrastructure consolidation. You’ll use less space, you’ll use your resources more effectively, and you may even see a reduction in how many licenses you need to run your business. The goal of virtualization is to help you consolidate infrastructure. The goal of the cloud is to help you offload unnecessary resources that shouldn’t be on-premise. Combined, you get a solution that focuses on infrastructure agility and optimization. When done right with a good partner, combining cloud and virtualization brings cost-savings right alongside happier end-users.

Too often, people see virtualization and cloud as two completely different systems that barely work together. But, it’s those that see the symbiotic relationship and the deep integration that will ultimately see the most significant benefits.

Remember, with virtualization, you can create hybrid cloud environments, scale between on-premise and cloud resources, and help your users become much more agile. The other significant factor is economics. Running different virtualization systems (storage, network, compute, application, desktop) will help you consolidate your infrastructure and use less space. This is accomplished by leveraging converged or hyperconverged infrastructure. Finally, the management of both cloud and virtualization has become easier as well. Too many screens won’t burden you as direct integration between your virtualization systems (VMware, Citrix, KVM, and so on) all have APIs and integration capabilities between on-premise and cloud resources.

A final and essential piece of advice is to ensure your cloud and virtualization solutions aren’t just “shelf-ware.” That is, you bought this fantastic solution, but you’re only using a small part of it. Be sure to work with partners who can show you what you’ve already bought via licensing and what you’re actually using. There are often unused yet essential features and functions that can further reduce complexity and improve performance.