What Survey Questions Should We Ask IT Infrastructure Buyers?

Every spring I’m faced with the wonderful opportunity – and challenge – of choosing the best questions for Forrester's annual 20 minute Web survey of commercial buyers of IT infrastructure and hardware across North America and Europe.

Clients can see the 2009 survey instrument here. In that survey, we learned that only 3% of firms were using cloud-hosted servers and that 79% of firms prioritized IT consolidation and virtualization but only 23% prioritized internal/private cloud efforts.

As technology industry strategists, what themes or hypotheses in IT infrastructure do you think we should focus on? What are the emerging topics with the potential for large, long term consequences, such as cloud computing, that you’d like to see survey data on? Please offer your suggestions in the comments below by May 21!

This year, I’m proposing the following focus areas for the survey:

  • New client system deployment strategies– virtual desktops, bring-your-own-PC, Win 7, smartphones, and tablets
    • Hypothesis:  Early adopters are embracing virtual desktops and bring-your-own-PC, but the mainstream will proceed with standard Win 7 deployments
  • The evolution of server virtualization to internal cloud– server virtualization, automation of virtualization management, integrated management of virtualization and physical servers.
    • Hypothesis: Firms are fully embracing virtualization, are focused on building internal cloud capabilities, but are reluctant to embrace public or hosted IaaS cloud service offerings.
  • Storage growth, challenges, and new strategies– overall data growth, growing variety of data strategies such as app-specific storage, new types of data such as media, and cloud storage services
    • Hypothesis: Firms are struggling with a growing diversity of data types, requirements, and uses, but aren’t embracing cloud storage services as the solution, except maybe for some forms of backup and archiving.
  • New IT system deployment models–Blade servers, fabric systems (compute, storage, and network together), hardware appliances, hosted desktop infrastructure, app-specific servers such as Oracle Exadata, and shipping container compute.
    • Hypothesis: Firms are just beginning to explore alternative models to using standard rack servers and networked storage, and will be drawn first to dedicated server virtualization configurations.

So, what do you think?
Please suggest improvements, new topic areas, deletions and even specific questions right here in the blog comments.
I'll be locking down themes by May 21, then moving to designing the specific questions, so we can field this in late June.

Thanks for your input!


Don't forget people and process, too

Great post and I think the themes are spot on. They certainly map with the big three themes we see in IT Infrastructure & Operations research. I do have a few suggestions, although I think some of these build on the thoughts you have above:
-- People: The changing role of infrastructure buyer. In our world, there's a lot of change around people and process as a result of the massive change in client and datacenter technology. Although I don't think you should probe on skills, I do think vendor strategists should have some insight on how changing workforce demographics and IT operations demographics will impact who buys and operates infrastructure products. Happy to brainstorm what those questions might look like.
-- Process: The push for more mature process business models. We see a lot of heat and energy around "industrialization" -- or the maturity of process frameworks, automation, and new I&O business models. You've got automation outlined above, but we feel this is a bigger theme then just surrounding server virtualization and the move to internal clouds.
-- Technology: The branch office. This one is a bit of non sequitur, but I think there's an opportunity to focus on the branch office as well. I think a lot of infrastructure buyers are being forced to examine infrastructure optimization at the branch. It's almost like no good deed goes unpunished. In other words, through virtualization and convergence they've demonstrated 20%+ savings in the datacenter. Now CIOs are asking for similar efficiency gains in the branch. I think you could ask about a lot of those trends above by location -- are they looking to do it in the datacenter, the branch, or both?

I'd be curious to know if anyone else agrees. Thoughts?

I like the process comments - let's talk about people questions

Rob, thanks for the detailed feedback. I know that Andrew is also putting thought into the storage ideas.

On the industrialization theme, what else should we ask about besides automation of virtualization? Is it about ITIL and equivalents? A direct question about ITIL seems boring, which is how we've tried in past years, but I think you've got better ideas than that - what are they? How can we get at this in a great question or two?

On people, how can we ask this? Seems like it is questions about pains or challenges, because I'm guessing the solutions aren't yet apparent or easy to capture in a survey.

Branch office idea is interesting, but doesn't feel like large impact for the vendors - or maybe I just don't see the magnitude of the issue. Is this an opportunity looking for technology or a vendor focus?

thanks, frank

On behalf of Dan Pickens, Sr.

On behalf of Dan Pickens, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at AMD

Applications/usage models
- What are the most common applications used in today’s commercial settings – SMB vs Enterprise,
- Do we see any trends toward more graphic intensive apps, like HD videoconferencing, flash based e-learning tools for staff training, the use of video in presentations, etc?
- How prevalent is multi monitor usage? How often do workers attend webinars, or use Window’s live meeting? What is the role of hand held devices such as I-phone and Droid in the commercial environment? Are workers needing to convert video for viewing on these devices.
- How much multi tasking does the average worker do, and with what apps?
- Security – can we get at the concerns and most commonly used apps? How many folks actually Window’s bit locker, bio metrics, TPM, Lojack, etc.?
- Manageability features – how many folks are using VPRO or DASH for out of band client manageability? What do they see as the most important features and why? What are the biggest pain points in implementing a managed client environment? Do they have plans for managing their clients in the future? How big is the business, usually, before they start seriously considering managed clients, and do they do it in house or have a third party help them?

Great questions!

Dan (thanks Lisa), these suggestions are great ones for helping us zoom in on buyer behavior that links to product purchase behavior. We'll have these handy as we design the questions.
Sounds like you're interested in features that drive higher end purchases?

Some questions better in Work Force survey

Our Work Force survey of end users in business is probably a better way to get insight into common apps, graphics intensity, multi-monitor, live collaboration, level of multi-tasking, and mobile devices. We'll look at asking some of this in the Hardware survey, but I expect IT to be out of touch on these issues and the end users more in touch. Do you need perspective from both?

The security and manageability questions are spot on for this Hardware survey. We'll see if we can fit it in.

additional monitors

On behalf of Scott McCutcheon, Senior Manager of AMD Market Intelligence:

Looking for data about mobile PC connected to external monitor. (i.e. two and more displays)
For example, the incidence of people who use external monitor with mobile PC. Also, docking stations is of interest.

Changing usage questions may be better in work force survey

We've got an upcoming survey of end users that will probably be better for getting at the multiple monitor question - we can ask users what they want, what they're actually doing, and how. Does IT provide or do they have to get it on their own? How does it compare with what they have at home? that kind of stuff.

I don't expect IT to be offering much in the way of multi-monitor support or to be very knowledgeable in this survey.

What do you think? Do you want to know IT's attitude, the end user or both? Why?

GPU compute?

Great stuff as always, Frank! Question to add:

"Would you consider using a hybrid computing model (CPU + GPU or FPGA co-processor) if you would
save 2x in power, but require 1 man-year of work to port your application to the co-processor?"

Yes, we'll ask about GPUs - but how?

I'd like to capture whether Corporate IT is involved or whether it's all in the business unit. Basic goal is to capture awareness of the technology. Beyond that, what part of the business and for what applications? Suggestions for other angles? I can only allocate one question to this, given very limited real estate on all data center and client device topics.

How about this?

Using GPUs as a co-processor to CPUs offer an opportunity to accelerate enterprise applications like
business intelligence and data mining and technical computing applications like seismic processing
in oil & gas and options pricing in finance. Would you consider using a CPU + GPU co-processing model,
if you would save 2x in power, but require 1 man-year of work to port your application to the co-processor?

on behalf of Jeff Lowe

Would love to ask questions with the tone of:

“Are you buying increasingly role-specific systems for different knowledge workers? Trying to consolidate on a few types of systems? Generally buying the exact same system across internal customer?”
“How much system-based software do you use for deployment? After market? Customized?”
“For notebook solutions, how much personal use/wear and tear do you typically anticipate, do you typically buy systems designed for durability?”
“Are you recommending full size notebooks? Thin and light? Is your recommendation based on usage?”
“Have recent economic conditions changed your buying criteria? Do systems need to provide more: graphic support/software support/features/warranty?”