Thursday, June 10, 2010

The missing "I" in IT (1)

Various articles have pointed out the diminished importance of CIO in organizations. It should not have been a surprise. 

Since the tech bubble in 2000, people should have foreseen this coming, why?
I call it the missing "I" in IT - or as I sometimes say - "IT is about I, before T", or in more avid language, the dog should wag the tail, not the other way around.

Apparently, most CIO focused too much on "T", instead of "I", hence deprecated their own value.  (The tail waged the dog)

OK, let's do a quick quiz, in less than 10 words, can you please explain what is "IT"?   "Computer and related stuff" is the most common answer, next ? "Computer and related stuff used in doing business" - at least business is mentioned.

However, both answers are in the T before I camp, not the I camp.  Computers and related stuff are the technology part of IT that "can be used" in processing information.  However, computers can be used to fry an egg in addition to process data.  (for those of you who are too young to know, when Intel first released its 80486 CPU, CPU fans were not around yet, and the CPU generated so much hit, there was a video posted people fried an egg on it.)

IT is about information.   One of the oldest and still widely used IT innovation is pen and paper.  Seriously, it was high tech at the time it was invented, and still very important tool we use this very day - although we don't call it high-tech anymore.

Now, what a low tech pen/paper has anything to do with our discussion of IT?  It was an invention to record information.  Think about it, what pens do to paper is not to make the paper more valuable in terms of weight, or any other physical measure --  instead, it is making marks that is now called information.

I always advocate people think about computers as pen/paper, because
IT should be about using technology to collect and process information.  
Not about how to sharpen your pencil more reliably.

If a CIO's focus is all "I make sure my computers run!" the CIO adds barely any value to a company.  Think about it, a company has all the pencils that are sharp all the time, but barely any one literate, when can these pencils do to help the business?  Unfortunately sharpening pencils that barely used happens all too often, and it depreciate the value of CIO in the business world.

Running the most reliable gadget that does little to enhance information processing within an Organization is a big trap for many CIOs who lost their prestiges status - they are just a glorified pencil sharpener.

IT should be about efficiency, not technology.   Management has always been about information, collect information regarding how things work, process information to understand how things work, analyze information to facilitate decision making, send out information to execute, present information to manage public relationship, etc.

Information is control - the better, more comprehensive information flows within an organization, the better control the leadership has.  Of course technology helps here.  That is actually the core value of IT - helps information flow with in an organization more effectively, efficiently with all the available technologies.

A classic example is inventory level.  Let's say a warehouse retailer, carries 15 days worth of inventory because it does inventory count weekly, it takes 3 days for the vendor to ship the products, and they need 5 days buffer - because they are not sure how fast each item sells.

Now with an inventory management solution, they should no longer need to count inventory every week - each in and out are traced, so they can save 6 days out of 7 days counting cycle.  So this inventory system can save 6 out of 15 days inventory for this retailer.  If this retailer is large, cutting 40% inventory can mean tens of millions.
Now, how about the POS system that tracks all items sold?  That will make 5 day buffer probably no more than 3 days (the order and shipping time).
A forecast system that forecast sales, and inventory level that enables pre-order of short of stock merchant will cut another 5 days off the cycle -- because no buffer needed any more, and orders can be placed early to accommodate shipping time.

So it can maintain 1 day inventory - now this is what now call JIT.  It was revolutionary at the time, and was enabled/enhanced by information technologies.  The companies invented this architecture knows what is IT.  How many CIOs have done anything remotely similar to such innovation?

Next we will talk about

  • out sourcing

Cloud-enabled Storage - Hype and opportunities in Cloud computing

Cloud enabled storage - the yet-to-be-born technology that enables a customer to "own" their data yet use computing power on the "Cloud" will be the next big thing.

When SAN and NAS was first introduced, they were considered unnecessary innovation that did nothing but extract money from customer's pocket.   However, gradually, they took over the enterprise storage because of their ability to split data storage from data processing (the servers, etc).  This prove to be a key capability customers need.

Moving to the next big thing - cloud, how can someone capitalized on it?

One key trap for Cloud computing is the ownership and control of data.  For consumers, many are willing (knowingly or not) to trade their ownership of data (i.e. privacy) for free services.  So Googles, Yahoos are all offering "the future of computing - Cloud" with minimum resistance.

The story is different in enterprise computing though, given the number of incidents in the past while related to Cloud computing, privacy breach, data leak, there is enough doubt in the enterprise market that the threat of handling core business data to some one one the Cloud is far out weight the benefit -- after all, enterprise rely on data to survive and make money, unlike consumers who are just consuming convenient data services.

So, what is the next big thing?  Since we have separated data storage from data processing with SAN, NAS, etc, it is logical that we can keep data storage in house, and consume data process (utility computing was not new idea at all).

Of course the current protocol used to access data will not be sufficient for reverse hosting the data.  New protocols and ideas need to be invented.

One probably candidate is in-memory database - which hosts the database in memory, and only need burst network bandwidth to load data initially.

Another approach is let customer run database services in house, and run application services on the Cloud.

On the fly data compression will again be a topic - the data flow through the network pipe between data owner and data processor should be compressed, and encrypted.   We know database access are great candidate for data compression because of the sparsity of the data retrieved.

Splitting data storage and data processing is the key for the success of Cloud computing in Enterprise world.  This won't be easy, and will not be driven by companies like Google or Facebook which business model is to exploit customer data.  New start-ups, or EMC, NetApp may have a chance.

I will be working on an architecture framework that enables secure and efficient data flow between data storage and data processing.

Data Storage <=> Data Processor <=====> Data Access

The new architecture is beyond just data transferring, because the application architecture we are using today are designed based on proximity between data and processor, the remote-access architecture now-a-days are more or less a patch to the data-processor combined model.

The new model need to be built on the assumption that Data Storage can be far away from Data Processor.  This assumption is the ultimate enabler for Cloud in enterprise.

If IBM catches this departing train, the day that most people will be using a handful of super fast computers MAY come back.
Well, since the super computers will not store your data, so they are not as scary as last time they appeared.

Of course part of the architecture is to ensure the data processor can not reconstruct data it processes -- better yet -- the processor's partition that used to process one customers data should be isolated and inaccessible by anyone else.

Sounds like an interesting idea, isn't it?