IT Complexity Continues to Worsen

By Allen Bernard

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While the promise of simpler times seemed just around the corner with advancements in automation, middleware, virtualization, SOA, IT governance, ITIL, etc., et. al., the truth of the matter is IT is getting more complex by the day.

While it may appear to end users things "just work," and for the most part they do, but IT today, behind the scenes, is harder to manage on all levels.

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It is more far-reaching than ever before, changing more rapidly than most professionals can keep up with and, overall, continuing to be a huge mash-up of disparate platforms and architectures; new technologies married to old ones; convergence; client-server and legacy; software-as-a-service; tape and networked storage; outsourcing; governance; compliance; security; collaboration between partners, suppliers, vendors; … Whew. Where's the aspirin?

On top of this (a few critics aside), IT and all that it provides is indispensable to business. Who today can run a company of any size (say over 20 employees) without technology? At least a PC. Scale that up to hundreds or thousands of employees and IT's role in that company's success is inescapable.

Moreover, it appears this trend is going to continue for the foreseeable future. The current crop of IT management tools are not keeping pace with the changes to infrastructure. And even though the promise of new technologies such as utility computing and service-orientated architecture (SOA) abound, if applied incorrectly or without stringent governance, the old-time problem of spaghetti code now becomes the new-found problem of "spaghetti IT."

"I think there's still a gap between the complexity and scale of the IT technology that's been deployed and our ability to effectively manage it," said Julie Craig, a senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates.

A big part of the problem, according to Craig, who spends a good deal of her day thinking about technology solutions to technology-based problems, is new technology is continuously layered on top of old; nothing is ever (or at least rarely) retired. "So, companies end up supporting everything from mainframes to UNIX boxes to AS400 to Windows servers to SAP."

Add to this the need for businesses to move ever faster and adopt to new ways of doing things seemingly daily and you get a huge push from the business to add end-user tools and capabilities.

And, if you don't do it for them (think wireless routers, instant messaging and USB drives), often times users just go ahead and start using introducing new technologies on their own. This creates yet another layer of complexity — shadow IT — and one that is completely ungovernable, at least in the early stages.

"Technology is more diverse, more affordable and far more attainable — thirty years ago we had a fax machines, centralized data processing, and copiers, said Lou Washington, the "Master of MIPS" and a senior business analyst at software and services provider Cincom Systems."Today, people go out and buy personal use cell-phones, blackberry devices, PCs, PDAs and assorted software and other things. These are brought into the office and the users expect them to work with the employer’s incumbent systems. It usually falls on IT to make this happen."

So, what we end up with is an IT environment that is becoming harder to manage and secure and that increases risk to the business, said Mike Wentz, VP of worldwide Enterprise Support for Symantec.

"I think it's clear that the complexity of the infrastructure of the datacenter is growing," said Wentz. "You have everything from, at the top layer, sort of the normal databases … and then there's the layer of middleware — Oracle, MS, SAP — applications on top of that; and then the requirement for data protection through storage management through server management through application performance and all the various different pieces and components of software that go into making those four critical pieces function. You obviously have the network layer, the storage layer, the server layer and virtual machines.

"So, all that complexity certainly increases the risks that CIO's bear."

To manage all of this complexity many organizations are turning to automation, virtualization and other tools and, most importantly, new governance structures. But, in his experience, one of the victims of complexity is good governance, said Wentz.

"A lot of what were seeing is the support staff in the IT infrastructure in many cases are not trained well enough, they don't know the operational programs well enough … and so I think that's where we're seeing a shift — is that the governance model is weak and that's there's a huge risk from the people side."

There is some good news, but it's just not going to get here anytime soon. According to EMA's Craig, sometime in the next half decade or so, autonomic computing will take a big chunk out of the day-to-day running of IT. And, at the least, this will free up people and budget for innovation, which, of course, is what the business wants but may well indeed lead to more complexity beginning the cycle again.

"Within the next — this is really going out on a limb — but I would say three-to-four years we can begin to see products making a significant dent in the 60-to-80 percent that were talking about in terms of keeping the lights on."

"The infrastructure, if anything, is going to get more complex, but what I'm looking to see happen is that products that manage the infrastructure … are going to get stronger and stronger."

We'll see.