Application Alignment: A Plan for Success

Jun 1, 2006

Dan Weinstein

In most large companies, efforts to align technology infrastructure with business requirements have failed for two primary reasons: First, an “If you build it, they will come,” approach results in IT creating tiered service levels in a vacuum with little or no input from business users.

Second, IT typically creates a roll-out plan that does not include working closely with the lines of business. Education is needed on how and when to use the various tiers of service. This results in failed implementations and confusion over which tiers of service to use to minimize costs.

The common thread here is a lack of communication between IT and the lines of business.

A roll-out plan is crucial to the success of any tiering and alignment strategy. Starting with a single application is the key. The application alignment process starts with performing a deep-dive into a single application; analyzing the fulfillment of business requirements via the various infrastructure components (primary storage, backup, archiving, server processing, and network).

Once the current environment is understood, each infrastructure component can be properly aligned to the business requirements by selecting the appropriate tiered service level.

The Challenge of Change

Constant change is a reality in many IT shops. Change in personnel, management, and/or technology is a constant factor that leads to many undesirable outcomes. Application alignments help alleviate many of these.

But, because an application alignment generally takes a significant effort in terms of time and resource requirements, it cannot be performed on every application in the environment. Consider the following when identifying the proper candidates for an application alignment:

  • Enterprise applications are the obvious first choice as the greatest opportunities to reduce cost generally lie within those applications.
  • Mission-critical applications are another key item to consider. The risk associated with mission-critical applications is much greater and therefore the opportunity to reduce risk is also greater. In some cases, these applications may be small but represent significant risk.
  • Constantly changing applications. Applications that have undergone several changes can be good candidates as they are often neglected and misunderstood.
  • The Benefits

    There are several benefits to performing an application alignment, especially for larger applications. These include reduced costs, reduced risk and satisfied customers. But often it can be difficult to figure out where to start.

    At first, develop a detailed plan including all of the tasks that need to be performed, along with the key individuals that must be involved. Once the plan is nailed down, it is crucial to communicate the plan with all involved.

    During the communication process, the goal it to provide the vision, explain the key benefits (i.e., reduction in cost/risk, and/or increase in service level) and lobby hard to get buy in. Most involved individuals are less apt to negatively influence the project if they buy into it. After the plan has been properly communicated, the next step is to begin the data collection process.

    Data Collection: Data about the application technical environment should be collected into six major categories—archive, backup, database design, host layout, network and primary storage.

    Depending on the deployed technologies for each category, various data collection techniques are required. In some instances scripts can be created to poll the infrastructure equipment. Any scripts created must be non-invasive to the environment.

    Interviews: To gain a thorough understanding of the application environment, a series of technical and business interviews should be conducted.

    Questionnaires should be developed to help facilitate discussions, however they should be treated only as a guide. It is more important to drive the discussions toward obtaining a thorough understanding of the application.

    The following people should be interviewed—business application owner, technology application owner, storage administrator, backup/archive administrator, systems administrator, database administrator, and network administrator.

    Analysis: Analysis should be done on all of the collected data, completed interview questionnaires, and any other interaction that had occurred with the application team.

    Ultimately, the analysis will lead to a set of recommendations. The recommendations generally are a result of the consultant’s personal experience and knowledge, coupled with their ability to ask the right questions to identify the potential areas for improvement. Often recommendations can come directly from the interviewees.

    Another key step is to perform a financial analysis. The financial analysis provides a means to quantify the recommendations and is generally one of the key items that senior management will focus on.

    The culmination of an application alignment is a set of recommendations. These recommendations need to hone in on how to tackle the challenges that exist in the application environment.

    Throughout the application alignment process, it is important to work towards getting buy-in from the key technical stakeholders. Technical risk will be in the forefront of everyone’s minds, so assuring them that these recommendations have been fully vetted and well received by the key technical stakeholders will put their minds at ease.

    In some cases, the technical stakeholders may also help drive forward the proposed recommendations.

    As stated earlier, management is going to want to see the value in implementing the proposed recommendations. The financial analysis will depict those cost reductions and help gain buy-in. Risk can also play a role in getting management’s attention. Identifying risk and recommending a means to address that risk is vital in developing winning recommendations.

    The application team must believe that implementing the proposed recommendations can be achieved. Keeping considerations such as existing technologies deployed, budget, and skill set, can help ensure the proposed recommendations actionable.

    Dan Weinstein is a senior consultant with GlassHouse Technologies, a provider of storage services and consulting.


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