Published on in Innovation

During a Fujitsu Forum 2013 press briefing announcing the launch of our new range of ETERNUS products, Forrester Senior Analyst Rachel Dines discussed some of the market forces driving what is being called “business-centric storage”.

After the briefing wrapped, we caught up with Rachel to talk in more depth about some of the issues she raised.

Craig Parker: Rachel, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. One of the big trends you mentioned just now was the explosion in ‘mission-critical’ apps. What do you think is driving that?

RD: I think one problem is that everyone has a hard time figuring out what actually is mission critical. Lots of things are getting pulled into that category. Part of the reason for that is that everyone has their own personal view on what applications are vital; everyone thinks that their baby is the most beautiful, right?

There’s also a greater degree of interdependence between systems. If you have one mission critical system that relies on lots of others, those lower-level systems get dragged up into that category too.

In general, I think we’re just more reliant on IT than we ever have been before. Think about email. Even four to five years ago, that might not have qualified as mission-critical. But how many companies would struggle if that went down today? And we see that in other areas too. If you’re a PR agency or have a strong customer service presence on Twitter, that’s now misson-critical too.

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CP: This sounds like a big enough challenge to manage as it is, but you also noted that plenty of IT budgets are staying flat. Why is it still so difficult to get the necessary investment into tech?

RD: There’s a Catch-22 situation at work here. The business has an expectation of what IT will deliver, and that’s not always being met. Because of that, many businesses won’t then invest more into IT, which makes it even harder for the tech department to do what it should be for the business.

CP: And this issue of the IT department not understanding the needs of the business – that’s an age-old concern, isn’t it?

RD: It is, and I think we’ve heard too much about IT needs to align to the needs of the business. Forget about that; IT is the business. It needs to drive success just as much as any other part of the company. Everyone knows that when it’s done right, IT can be the core differentiator for a business. That’s why it’s worrying that such a high proportion of execs say that IT doesn’t deliver enough.

CP: One of the first things you mentioned in your talk just now was about the huge surge in enterprise data. Do you think there’s a danger that the enterprise is overextending itself in this clamour to manage and store so much information?

RD: Possibly. I think we’re reaching the tipping point, especially when you look at where some of that data is coming from. Everyone wants to use that data to build a better business, but at the same time it’s becoming a massive pressure point – organisations are struggling to make use of it, and they absolutely can’t risk losing it. We have to get smarter about how data is managed and stored. There has to be a point to doing it.

CP: Right – and you noted how important automation is to that. At the same time, you mentioned that there’s still a fear around it. Why?

RD: Well, if you’re a storage manager I think there’s a concern about handing over too much power to the machine. What if a mission-critical process goes down because of the automated processes you put in place? I think there’s a concern around responsibility.

There’s almost certainly a worry about personal obsolescence too. If everything’s automated, that person could find themselves out of a job quite quickly. But really that just means their role needs to evolve. They need to think about how to build these systems to be more business-centric, and how they can spend less time on the mundane aspects of the job and more on delivering some of that value I mentioned earlier.

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CP: And how close are we to this business-centric vision?

RD: It differs, of course. But I’d say that many IT departments are still 3 – 5 years out from that. I talked about how we need to graduate from being software-centric to business-centric, but lots of organisations are still one step behind that, even. They’re still hardware-centric. So it’s a path we still need to take.

At the same time, it’s easier said than done. This is a huge cultural shift that we’re talking about. It requires a certain degree of rulebook ripping-up. That takes a lot of courage; standing up in front of your execs and telling them that they way you’ve managed your IT to date is no longer good enough? That’s a big deal.

CP: One last question, Rachel. You talked about the benefits of a blended infrastructure when it comes to application management – specialised for the mission-critical, standardised for the rest. How do you stop that from becoming hugely complex as more apps move into that mission-critical space?

RD: It’s worth remembering that the technology to manage those apps will evolve, which will certainly help. But ultimately this about becoming clearer about what qualifies as mission-critical. What are the five or six applications you really can’t live without? Those are mission-critical. Segmentation has to get smarter.

CP: Brilliant, thanks again for your time.

RD: It’s been a pleasure, thank you.

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