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Gartner: Replace Your Data Center with a ‘Digital Toolbox of Possibilities’

The analyst firm lays out ways enterprise IT leaders can stay relevant in a future where “infrastructure is everywhere.”

While enterprise data centers aren’t going away completely, the data center as we know it is seeing its final days, playing an increasingly smaller role in the overall picture of enterprise technology infrastructure, which now also consists of a multitude of cloud-based services. That means an entirely new mindset for those working in IT and operations.

This was the overall message Gartner analysts delivered in the opening keynote of the research firm’s annual IT Infrastructure, Operations, and Cloud Strategies conference in Las Vegas Monday. Instead of a rigid on-premises infrastructure, designed to support specific applications, IT leaders have to develop a “toolbox” of infrastructure options and “pre-defined patterns” to support the constantly changing requirements of business units and software developers.

“The future of infrastructure is everywhere. That’s right, everywhere,” said Gartner distinguished VP analyst David Cappuccio, whose blog post titled ‘The Data Center Is Dead’ earlier this year, carrying more or less the same message, sent ripples through the data center industry. “Whether as individuals we like it or not, it’s out of our hands,” he said in the keynote.

Why may a VP of IT not like the concept of infrastructure being everywhere instead of being confined to the four walls of their data center? The short answer: control.

“We’re asked to support agility,” Bob Gill, also a Gartner VP, said, “but agility lies in diversity.” Agility in IT is “the monster under the bed,” because the more diverse a family of technologies you support, the more control you relinquish. And less control means a tougher time with security and compliance.

“It used to be that you controlled everything” as an enterprise IT leader, Gill said. That control is quickly slipping away, especially as a function of controlling the data center. “There are still data centers, but the idea of the data center as the core factor that controls everything is outdated.”

In the world of digital business, a business leader or developer is no longer limited by the technology their company’s IT department provides. There’s a myriad of services they can buy with a corporate credit card without ever getting IT involved, and there’s no guarantee those services will meet the organization’s security and compliance requirements.

Having a “digital toolbox of possibilities,” or a diverse set of well-architected solutions and services, is a short-term way for IT leaders to provide the agility developers need while regaining some control, Gartner analysts suggested.

Control itself isn’t the end goal, of course. “The business unit still needs our steady hand of governance, of security, of application reuse,” Gill said.

In the long term, IT leaders should get away from being project-focused and become more product-focused, because that’s the way businesses look at things, he said. “Infrastructure does not make money; the applications make money.”

That means infrastructure decisions should be driven by applications. Gartner calls the various new infrastructure options available to companies “execution venues.”

IT can leverage its knowledge to guide the selection of best execution venues for each particular application, which means collaborating more closely with business units and developers – their colleagues that build products that drive revenue for the organization.

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