Customers today are hyper-connected and their connectivity is rewriting the rules of business. Access to mobility, social networks, wearable devices, connected cars and hotels managed by robots are rapidly changing the behaviors of how customers engage and purchase. Think how you watch a film, shop or order a taxi.
The disruptive power in the hands of newly tech-savvy customers is forcing every business to evolve into a digital business or perish.
Infrastructure is at the center of the Digital Transformation
The digital transformation requires that organizations evolve their underlying technology infrastructure investments to fuel a business technology (BT) agenda, with technology designed to win, serve, and retain customers. Infrastructure – whether it is managed internally or hidden behind some cloud service – is a big part of the digital in digital business. I&O leaders can no longer simply focus on the same old approach to infrastructure. Internal business operations, or systems of record will remain important, but the emphasis must shift more to systems powering the newer digital customer experience
We are all aware that software is at the center of transitioning every successful business today. This software focus fueled a rapid expansion of cloud services and many argue that there is no longer a necessity to own hardware. This has turned the infrastructure world upside down. Hardware speeds and feeds no longer dominate infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals' criteria. In some use cases, qualities like the fastest packet-processing chip or largest disk capacity are critical, but they matter less to many of the systems of engagement in the BT agenda. As you design your BT services, be aware of which solution is right for optimizing the customer experience.
The Background – Linux as a Fast Follower and the Need for Hot Patching
No doubt about it, Linux has made impressive strides in the last 15 years, gaining many features previously associated with high-end proprietary Unix as it made the transition from small system plaything to core enterprise processing resource and the engine of the extended web as we know it. Along the way it gained reliable and highly scalable schedulers, a multiplicity of efficient and scalable file systems, advanced RAS features, its own embedded virtualization and efficient thread support.
As Linux grew, so did supporting hardware, particularly the capabilities of the ubiquitous x86 CPU upon which the vast majority of Linux runs today. But the debate has always been about how close Linux could get to "the real OS", the core proprietary Unix variants that for two decades defined the limits of non-mainframe scalability and reliability. But "the times they are a changing", and the new narrative may be "when will Unix catch up to Linux on critical RAS features like hot patching".
Hot patching, the ability to apply updates to the OS kernel while it is running, is a long sought-after but elusive feature of a production OS. Long sought after because both developers and operations teams recognize that bringing down an OS instance that is doing critical high-volume work is at best disruptive and worst a logistical nightmare, and elusive because it is incredibly difficult. There have been several failed attempts, and several implementations that "almost worked" but were so fraught with exceptions that they were not really useful in production.[i]
Forrester defines Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) as the technologies that "allow organizations to share and replicate content across multiple devices, distributing files to employees and/or customers or partners outside the enterprise".
Two Forrester Waves on the EFSS market were published recently, segmenting this crowded market into two categories: cloud solutions and hybrid solutions. Forrester clients can access them here:
This year’s Microsoft Analyst Summit took place at the St. Regis hotel in Singapore, a prestigious place that hosted more than 90 analysts from the entire region. The Forrester team was impressed by Microsoft’s strategies in cloud, digital transformation and partnerships, and in particular, the main takeaway for us throughout the 2-day event was Microsoft’s innovation capabilities and ambition, especially in the APAC region.
HoloLens puts the spotlight on Mixed Reality. Unlike Augmented Reality, which is lightweight but has limited views and functionality, or Virtual Reality, which is very powerful but comes with bulkiness and dependence on a PC, Mixed Reality blends holograms with the real world to marry agility and powerfulness. HoloLens brings this concept to life, it is light enough for users to move around safely, and it is very powerful because it is a self-contained computer that doesn’t require tethering to another PC. There is even an emulator that allows developers to develop holographic apps for HoleLens without a device. HoloLens could drastically change the way people work, live or even think, we are all very eager to see if the first wave of HoleLens products will successfully establish an ecosystem that can sustain mass market deployments and future growth.
As always each year, Huawei hosted its analyst event in April, with hordes of analysts descending on Shenzhen. Here are a few observations from the event:
In 2015, Huawei’s revenues grew by 37% to €61 billion and its EBIT grew by 34% to €7 billion, keeping the operating margin stable at just under 12%. Huawei’s strategy paid off across all of its divisions in 2015. Huawei’s Carrier Business pushed deeper into carrier transformation support and grew by 21% in 2015. Its Consumer Business operations entered the mainstream: The division grew by 73% in 2015, with Huawei gaining the No. 3 spot in the global smartphone league table. Huawei’s Enterprise Business is gaining traction and grew by 44% in 2015.
There are four distinctive aspects that go some way to explaining why Huawei keeps on outgrowing its peer group. First, Huawei’s heart beats in its R&D division, and most of Huawei’s top managers have come through the ranks of the R&D team. Second, Huawei benefits from strong internal collaboration and flexibility. Compared with other vendors, Huawei seems a lot less process-driven. Instead, Huawei seems to tolerate, even encourage, self-organization among employees — despite strict management hierarchies. Third, Huawei has a flexible and unconventional approach to customer experience. Huawei completes projects that overrun without overanalyzing whose fault it is. Fourth, Huawei is not listed and therefore not answerable to external shareholders. This gives it the freedom to experiment and take a long-term view.
Major conferences are often the occasion for key vendor announcements, and SAP didn’t disappoint. At the 2016 SAP Insider event on BI/Hana in Las Vegas, SAP announced the acquisition of independent mobile BI specialist Roambi’s solution portfolio and key assets. With this acquisition, SAP underlines its commitment not only to mobile and cloud but also to getting the right data into the hands of the right people at the right time. With this acquisition, SAP underlines its commitment not only to mobile and cloud but also to getting the right data into the hands of the right people at the right time. The Roambi acquisition adds the following to SAP’s mobile BI portfolio:
An attractive set of prebuilt visualizations for fast creation of mobile dashboards.
A cloud-based back end that can connect to a variety of data and BI sources.
The capability to create data-rich, interactive, eBook-like publications.
There are both tactical and strategic aspects to SAP’s acquisition of Roambi, which:
Adds attractive capabilities to SAP’s mobile BI portfolio, even for customers who may already be using BusinessObjects Mobile.
Provides an instant cloud option for mobile BI to customers running on-premises BI environments, but who can’t, or don’t want to, support a mobile BI solution.
Can be leveraged as an important building block for the mobile capabilities of SAP Cloud for Analytics.
Brings more than software to the SAP stable. In one fell swoop, SAP gains a team of professionals who’ve been living and breathing mobile BI for a long time.
A CMO and a CIO walk into a hotel bar (Let’s call them Tom and Dick). After ordering a drink, Tom says, “Dick, I really need to start working with a DMP this year, and I want your help selecting one.” Dick says, “A DMP? My enterprise architecture team is building a near real-time, self-service data management platform. We’ll be done by the end of the year. You’re going to love it in 2017!” With an absent look on his face, Tom says “A DMP is a piece of AdTech that we can use to quickly target tailored audiences with our ad campaigns. It’s not a back-office data warehouse”. Dick laughs and says, “Ad campaigns? Didn’t you just buy a campaign management tool from one of those so-called marketing cloud vendors? You know, our CRM system has a campaign module, not to mention an enormous customer database.” Tom’s response: “You’re not getting it. Cross-Channel Campaign Management is a MarTech tool, not CRM. And a DMP is not a customer database.” Exasperated, Dick shouts, “What the hell is the difference between MarTech and AdTech anyway!”
For many years, infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals have been dedicated to delivering services at lower costs and ever greater efficiency, but the business technology (BT) agenda requires innovation that delivers top-line growth.
The evolution and success of digital business models is leading I&O organizations to disrupt their traditional infrastructure models to pursue cloud strategies and new infrastructure architectures and mindsets that closely resemble cloud models.
Such a cloud-first strategy supports the business agenda for agility, rapid innovation, and delivery of solutions. This drives customer acquisition and retention and extends the focus beyond ad hoc projects to their complete technology stack. The transition to cloud-first mandates a transition for infrastructure delivery, management, and maintenance to support its delivery and consumption as a reusable software component. Such infrastructure can be virtual or physical and consumed as required, without lengthy build and deployment cycles.
Growing cloud maturity, the move of systems of record to the cloud (see my blog “Driving Systems of Records to the Cloud, your focus for 2016!)container growth, extensive automation, and availability of "infrastructure as code" change the roles within I&O, as far less traditional administration is needed. I&O must transition from investing in traditional administration to the design, selection, and management of the tooling it needs for composable infrastructure.
In 2014 I wrote about Microsoft and Dell’s joint Cloud Platform System offering, Microsoft’s initial foray into an “Azure-Like” experience in the enterprise data center. While not a complete or totally transparent Azure experience, it was a definite stake in the ground around Microsoft’s intentions to provide enterprise Azure with hybrid on-premise and public cloud (Azure) interoperability.
I got it wrong about other partners – as far as I know, Dell is the only hardware partner to offer Microsoft CPS – but it looks like my idiot-proof guess that CPS was a stepping stone toward a true on premise Azure was correct, with Microsoft today announcing its technology preview of Azure Stack, the first iteration of a true enterprise Azure offering with hybrid on-prem and public cloud interoperability.
Azure Stack is in some ways a parallel offering to the existing Windows Server/Systems Center and Azure Pack offering, and I believe it represents Microsoft’s long-term vision for enterprise IT, although Microsoft will do nothing to compromise the millions of legacy environments who want to incremental enhance their Windows environment. But for those looking to embrace a more complete cloud experience, Azure Stack is just what the doctor ordered – an Azure environment that can run in the enterprise that has seamless access to the immense Azure public cloud environment.
On the partner front, this time Microsoft will be introducing this as a pure software that can run on one or more standard x86 servers, no special integration required, although I’m sure there will be many bundled offerings of Azure Stack and integration services from partners.
I’ve written and commented in the past about the inevitability of a new class of infrastructure called “composable”, i.e. integrated server, storage and network infrastructure that allowed its users to “compose”, that is to say configure, a physical server out of a collection of pooled server nodes, storage devices and shared network connections.[i]
The early exemplars of this class were pioneering efforts from Egenera and blade systems from Cisco, HP, IBM and others, which allowed some level of abstraction (a necessary precursor to composablity) of server UIDs including network addresses and storage bindings, and introduced the notion of templates for server configuration. More recently the Dell FX and the Cisco UCS M-Series servers introduced the notion of composing of servers from pools of resources within the bounds of a single chassis.[ii] While innovative, they were early efforts, and lacked a number of software and hardware features that were required for deployment against a wide spectrum of enterprise workloads.
This morning, HPE put a major marker down in the realm of composable infrastructure with the announcement of Synergy, its new composable infrastructure system. HPE Synergy represents a major step-function in capabilities for core enterprise infrastructure as it delivers cloud-like semantics to core physical infrastructure. Among its key capabilities: