Be Agile or Be Gone

Reporter's Notebook: Gartner's Symposium/ITXpo has a clear message: Go fast! Be agile! Be flexible! Don't scare the CIOs!

ORLANDO—Best Buy is becoming a pharmacy. Wal-Mart is becoming a bank. The pink teacups are spinning faster. Your infrastructure isnt agile. Your IT managers are in react mode.

Yahoo and AOL and Google and are clumping together into one massive e-mail/publishing/blogorific jellyfish, common citizens are taking the social networking of the Internet into their own hands, tragically beyond the reach of advertising revenues, and Cinderella, your coach is turning into a pumpkin, GAAHHHHH!!!

Yes, its time for Gartners Symposium/ITXpo here in sunny Orlando, and Mondays opening keynote set it all off with a madcap, musical, 3-D multianalyst adventure through a whizzy, spinning rendition of business changes that are going to have huge ramifications on your teetery-tottery IT infrastructure, according to Gartner Vice President and Distinguished Analyst Thomas Bittman.

Not dizzy yet, my little Mouseketeers? You will be, Bittman said, because the teacups arent slowing down—theyre speeding up.

"Managers are usually in react mode, for changing software requirements and for workloads," he said.

"That drives cost up and flexibility down. Current speed will get a lot worse. CIOs want rapid results, but they have to pay for it and manage the people who build it."

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Some food for thought: If youre a bank, how are you planning to greet Wal-Mart as a competitor?

If youre a mortgage company, how do you plan to roll out detection technology that will let your business know when a site visitor decides to stop browsing rates and apply for a loan?

And dont tell us you arent planning any such thing, because it is coming, and as soon as its here it wont be a competitive differentiator anymore, said Susan Landry, managing vice president at Gartner.

Thats because consumers wont put up with 2-inch-thick stacks of paper after your competitor rolls out the 20-minute online mortgage, complete with automatic scheduling of mortgage specialist consultation upon serious customer inquiry.

In the blink of an eye, it will be the common, accepted standard, not the revolutionary breakthrough it seems today.

How are you going to cope? More practically, how are you going to glue it all together?

Dan Sholler, research vice president at Gartner, said weve got to start thinking about middleware to provide flexibility, linkage and operability between components that already exist in the enterprise.

"Nobody has the time to reinvent the wheel—weve got to take what weve got and create seamless linkages between applications, infrastructure and partners."

Thus were seeing standards like Web services, Java and XML, all working to create middleware that can be easily combined and more flexible.

As it goes with software, so it goes with hardware. As enterprises start thinking of their infrastructure as holistic, flexible and real-time, theyre turning to server virtualization.

And sure, that will help with todays server sprawl—if youre just talking about the boxes that get dusty, Bittman said.

A new problem, and a more dangerous one, is virtual machine sprawl, which Bittman pronounced as uncontrolled flexibility that is worse than useless.

I sounded out a showgoer on this point, and he wholeheartedly agreed. Hes with a South Carolina branch of Westinghouse Electric, a utility thats on server virtualization like white on rice.

"We still have to do as much patch management as ever," he said. "The management issues are only more intense."

Plus, the showgoer told me, whatever cost savings are realized are offset by the fact that licensing is still hooked to a per-physical-server model.

Next Page: An agile infrastructure needs flexibility.