When I returned from the HP Discover conference not so long ago, I felt enlightened. The event enabled me to meet a wide variety of people from all sorts of different organisations, giving an insight into their view of IT today.
There were a couple of themes raised by people at Discover which reflect how far we've come in the last couple of years, and I think these two points will have a big affect on industry over the next couple of years. Namely:
- The shift in thinking about hardware, recognising that constant data growth has to be supported within the absolute ceiling of the supply of power.
- The shift towards the virtual, and from data to information.
We are now seeing the real impact of these shifts, and those organisations that embrace this kind of change are the ones most likely to 'fly high' this year and in the future. As Meg Whitman said at the conference, you stay ahead not by evolving old technology, but by changing the game.
The first shift is in terms of hardware. We are collecting more and more data, and then have to make sense of it. We're only taking our first baby-steps in terms of truly realising the potential of all this data, in any event, the more data we have, the more servers we need to manage and store it.
However, there's an absolute constraint - that of power. Cost of power is an important factor, but actually getting access to sufficient power has become a critical concern. This can, to some extent, be addressed by having more - possibly smaller - data centres in multiple locations, but this in turn drives costs up.
Cutting down on data centres
Scott Anderson, VP of Computer Services at HP talked about his approach to this problem at the conference. Involving significant consolidation, an asset retirement programme and a network redesign, the company's IT infrastructure went from over 85 data centres down to just 6.
HP also invested in its data centre in Northeast England. The abundant cool wind blowing off the North Sea is used to keep the data centre cool.
HP's Wynyard centre is 40% more energy-efficient than conventional data centres due to the use of naturally cool air to keep control of the temperature.
Google have followed this approach by investing in its data centre in Finland. The chilly climate offers a cheap means of keeping the data centre cool, while Finland's abundant hydroelectricity further enhanced the site's green credentials.
As power becomes more expensive – at least in the short to medium term – and while its availability remains finite, these kinds of fresh thinking are going to be the means by which IT organisations can keep up with business demands.
Clearly this kind of reorganisation needs careful planning, some high-level backing and the funding to make it happen. However, the alternative is to constrain the business broadly to today's compute power and storage capacity – evolution not revolution.
In the mid to longer term this kind of approach will have a dramatic impact on the ability to meet the demands of business on the IT infrastructure. Keeping costs down can't hurt either.
The shift towards the virtual is becoming mainstream and will continue to do so through 2014. With businesses embracing the Cloud, pay as you go (PAYG) and software services (SAAS), we're seeing organisations becoming more agile as a result. Despite the potential pitfalls of the "shadow IT", this trend is going to continue.
A few examples stood out at HP Discover...
Facebook's CIO, Tim Campos discussed the shift to a knowledge-based economy, with the company recognising that their most valuable data asset is the relationships they record between Facebook users.
Facebook are deploying technology to derive insights and knowledge based on these relationships, and it is this kind of analysis that is critical to realising revenue opportunities while developing and growing the company.
Tim commented that a key role of any IT organisation must be to refine the data they hold and then develop processes to extract information. It's information that drives the company, either by improving services or by information becoming a product in its own right.
The HP Earth Insights project with Conservation International demonstrates that "People need nature – nature doesn't need people", to quote Harrison Ford, Vice-chair of Conservation International.
HP Earth Insights provides an early warning system for the planet, giving global insight into the impact that mankind is having.
This information is presented from huge amounts of data collected across the globe, and can be viewed by anyone, anywhere. As Harrison Ford said at Discover, "you can't manage what you can't measure", - this information is a critical step on the road to managing our impact on the world.
There are a raft of influences applying pressure on IT at the moment – a hardware revolution; mobility; the availability of compute power; the shift to the virtual; and the pressure to get more for less – it's definitely a time of upheaval and change. .
As organisations transform to meet – and drive – the needs of the knowledge economy, the IT industry has a pivotal role in making sense of the ever increasing quantities of data we have available to us.
Having the right tools in place to make this happen, enabling the business to transform and stay at the top of 'it's game' is of critical importance. While choosing these tools may represent difficult decisions, it is certain that maintaining the status quo is not a viable option.
- Alastair Corbett leads HP's UK&I Software Business Unit and has responsibility for its strategy, the promotion and selling of the IT Performance Suite and related services.