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Analysts: We're Not Quite Ready for Real Time

Many IT systems are underutilized, and do not have the flexibility to keep up with rapid changes in the businesses they support. That's the conclusion of Gartner analysts who kicked off this week's Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo 2003 conference in Orlando, Florida.

Developing a real-time infrastructure should be the goal of IT managers in today's business climate, which requires that business processes be adaptable to change on a moment's notice. This requires the development of real-time IT infrastructures that can handle such tasks on an end-to-end basis across the enterprise, the analysts advocated.

The most pressing challenge to building such a real-time infrastructure is to figure out ways to better utilize resources. Currently, many IT systems, which are built to handle peak loads, normally are only run at about 10 percent to 20 percent of their capacity, said Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman. "[We've gone from a situation] in the early days of the mainframe, when we had a single system supporting mixed workloads, to an environment where we deploy a new system for every new application."

Such underutilization is not an issue from a hardware perspective, since hardware prices keep dropping and are increasingly being commoditized. "A large part of data center costs today is made up of labor," says Bittman. "Computing platforms only 25 percent utilized still require 100 percent administration. Labor costs, and overall costs in line with actual usage, and for the infrastructure to react faster to change, we have to bring more automation to distributed computing."

The key to changing this scenario not only lies in server consolidation, but also includes strategies such as storage consolidation, server provisioning, automation of IT operations and virtualization of IT resources, Bittman and other Gartner analysts argue.

"Automation is the real key to real-time infrastructure, and today's infrastructure is anything but real time," remarked Donna Scott, another Gartner analyst. "Today, if you want to take an application server from a trading application, and repurpose it to a financial reporting application, it would take more than eight hours to configure and deploy those changes. With a real-time infrastructure, changes occur dynamically, and automatically across the components, so rather than eight hours, it occurs in minutes. Real-time infrastructure is not just about saving money. It's about making your infrastructure more agile, more responsive to changes in business priorities, and business demand, and also to enable IT resources to dynamically meet a service level."

In the process, IT professionals need to build systems flexible enough to enable business managers to pick apart business processes and reconfigure them, on an end-to-end basis, as market needs dictate. Some of this flexibility was evident in the Internet-based efforts that began to arise in the late 1990s, Gartner analysts agreed.

But few companies really dug in and applied new approaches to core systems, said Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer. "In e-business, Internet technologies were generally applied at the edges of the business," he pointed out. "At the buy side, we used e-procurement, and on the sell-side, we used e-commerce. This first era of Internet-enabled business change, we put 'e' on our old businesses. Unfortunately, the core processes, the organizations, the departments, the methods, and the entire structure of most industries have not been revolutionized, not yet."

Three technology drivers -- systems integration, information unification, and application usability, will enable such "business process fusion" Plummer added. "With systems integration, we're talking integration with a broad scope, to encompass both the full end-to-end process and also to link between different types of processes. Most system integration, as we know it to date, has focused on transactional processes and data. For fusion, that needs to be extended to other types of systems, systems handling documents, handling calendars, and handling e-mail." In addition, information unification is achievable through enterprise portal environments, Plummer added. The rise of Web services also is creating interest in Service-Oriented Architectures, which also will enable business users to quickly change applications to adapt to new processes.

About the Author

Joe McKendrick is an independent consultant and author specializing in surveys, technology research and white papers. He's a contributing writer for ENTmag.com.

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