On September 4, 2012, Robert Reeder, CIO of The Rezolve Group, joined the Peer Incite community to discuss designing infrastructure for continuous business uptime. Reeder’s company is focused on consumers of higher education services, assists these students in understanding the total costs of a higher education, and provides assistance in helping families complete their FAFSA - Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
As the CIO of a company experiencing significant growth, but with a relatively small IT staff, Reeder began to look at the company’s IT infrastructure and services in an effort to streamline IT operations and provide significantly improved business outcomes, including less downtime, an environment that can scale to meet continued growth needs, and the ability to continue operations in the event of a disaster.
The factors that hold us back
As CIOs, what often holds us back from being able to make the changes that are necessary in order to meet all of the goals we’d like to meet?
- Perhaps you’re being held back by legacy hardware on which single, mission critical applications reside. That makes it difficult to build an IT infrastructure that’s as flexible as necessary to meet new business requirements.
- Perhaps IT staff members are invested in existing development processes that require significant downtime for software updates. That makes it difficult to deploy new software functionality in a timely manner.
- Perhaps the organization tolerates a development environment that is not as robust as production. When it comes to workload productivity, an unreliable development environment should be unacceptable. Lost time in development translates directly to slowdowns in time-to-market for new products.
- Perhaps existing network services are slow and unreliable. This makes true disaster recovery and site redundancy very difficult, if not impossible.
One step back equals four steps forward
There are many different ways to apply "bandages" to the myriad of legacy problems to get to an acceptable place. But, the one surefire way to make sure that established goals get met is to throw it all out and start over. For Reeder, this was a road he was willing to travel, and it’s one that I heartily recommend if it makes sense and it’s possible. There are, however, some challenges that must be addressed before this can happen:
- Have a vision: Although most organizations replace IT hardware on a cycle, major fork-lift upgrades require a clear, articulated understanding of the desired end-state.
- Document and understand every infrastructure component: Just because something will ultimately go away doesn’t mean that it’s not important. The function of everything needs to be understood in order to make a determination about that service’s place in a new environment.
- Change the organization's mindset to one of continuous improvement with no downtime: Reeder was successful in modifying the IT culture to one of what he calls a “fast cut” methodology whereby new code is deployed very quickly with little or no downtime. This has allowed his organization to deploy features and updates more quickly and with less overall impact. The “cut” has simply become routine as opposed to being an event. To be fair, his staff was already pretty progressive, so this wasn’t a battle.
- Analyze legacy code: Reeder said his team had to analyze old code to remove hardcoded references to systems, so that changes could be made without damaging services. Without this step, his efforts would have had a negative impact on the business.
- Emphasize all aspects of the business: Even the development environment needs to be robust so that developers can continually test and build new code designed to improve the business. Don’t just focus on production.
Support is key
Reeder was extremely fortunate to have the support he needed to take a “throw it all away” approach in order to build the IT environment necessary to meet modern business demands. He took his organization from one steeped in old physical servers and legacy infrastructure to one that will be 100% virtual by the end of October 2012 and that is nimble and allows his company to take a continuous improvement approach to business.
Action Item: CIOs need to continually adapt and improve their environments in order to meet evolving business demands. Sometimes, this might mean throwing in the towel on the current environment and building a new environment that meets current demands and that is flexible and nimble enough to meet new business demands that arise. CIOs should not shy away from such challenges and should strive to have a deep enough understanding of the entire environment in order to be able to drive a smooth change from legacy to modern with as little disruption as possible.