Agility Part One — What Is Agility?
The New York Times had a dilemma. They had identified a business opportunity, but in order to execute they had to convert 11 million articles to PDF files within 60 days. How could they obtain the hardware and execute in time? To the cloud!
The New York Times rented 100 computers on Amazon’s cloud and converted the 11 million articles from TIFF to PDF within 24 hours at a cost of $240.
Disney had 60 days to set up a farm of web servers to support a web broadcast of the popular “Camp Rock” movie and did so using VMware in a private-cloud like scenario:
“By taking a pool of equipment and dedicate it to the event, and move it around instead of having to go through a deployment and purchasing cycle makes us more agile…”
Other sites, including ABC news and ESPN are hosted out of the same facility, “so we were able to spread our load and use 25 different machines that weren’t at a peak time. Basically by doing that, we were able to hold the peak load and there were no incremental capital costs,”
ABC’s Dancing with the Stars also claims that they were able to reduce the time required to provision voting server infrastructure from 30 days to just one day using virtualization.
And how could we overlook this week’s news with Wikileaks – regardless of how we may feel about their actions – which used Amazon’s cloud in order to elude efforts to block access to their site.
Here we see examples of companies using both the public cloud (i.e. Amazon EC2) as well as the private cloud to execute their strategy as quickly as possible.
Success = Strategy + Execution
Success in business often comes down to crafting a solid business strategy and then executing that strategy. Sometimes the strategy isn’t nearly as hard as being able to execute it quickly and effectively. Time is money and it is also often a short window of opportunity – and once the time or opportunity is lost it’s gone. You simply can’t easily recover from lost time and opportunity in the marketplace.
Companies want to be first to market with a new offering (First Mover Advantage). There are geo-political events and government regulation in a global economy which can create new responsibilities or opportunities. There’s competitors changing their offerings and new competitors looking to encroach on what you thought was your market. Technology continues to change the rules of the game and what’s possible in many markets. There’s change everywhere around us, and those which can adapt and execute quickly are those who will be the most successful.
What is Agility?
One general definition of agility is the ability to change direction efficiently. Cloud agility I would suggest is an IT infrastructure that can be used to facilitate a business response to changing conditions or opportunity. This concept is also referred to as Infrastructure As a Service (IaaS).
Now I happen to think that the value of agility is profound, but not everyone has developed such an appreciation. Somewhere outside Silicon Valley, several CIO’s were recently observed attending a retreat in which they were reciting a litany in repetition. My Latin is a bit rusty, but if I’m not mistaken the words they are repeating in the video below are “IT is nothing more than a cost center…(thunk)…IT is nothing more than a cost center….”
To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, “These aren’t the monks you’re looking for”. EMC’s vSpecialist team often refer to themselves as “Warrior-monks” and these would be the type of monk you should be seeing 🙂
All kidding aside, Agility is kind of a big deal. The cost center is the traditional view of IT in that it was a required expense of business but didn’t directly contribute to profit. But what if your IT infrastructure can be empowered with agility such that IT can be a business partner, finding ways to quickly execute the business strategy?
The ability to surround a physical product or service with supporting applications offers more value to customers and provides competitive advantage to the vendor. And knowing how to take advantage of cloud computing to speed delivery of complementary applications into the marketplace is crucial to win in the future. Failing to optimize the application delivery supply chain will hamper companies as they battle it out in the marketplace.
We have prepared an agility checklist to help companies assess if they are suffering from an agility barrier. If you’d like to assess your own organization, you may download the checklist here (registration required).
Gartner has already identified their top 10 technologies for 2011 and at the top of the list was cloud computing. And while there has been some debate in the past of how important First Mover Advantage is, I agree with Dave Chase in his Seattle PI article which makes the case that what’s really important is the “cloud mover advantage”.
Also for more background on the concept of using your IT infrastructure to execute your business strategy, take a look at the book “Enterprise Architecture as a Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution“. As the title explains, this book explores how your IT infrastructure — when properly designed — can be used as a platform to execute business strategy for success. The concept is illustrated below and I will try to return to this in more detail in future posts:
AGILITY THE SERIES
I want to cover several different areas in this series and while it may change right now the line up looks roughly like this:
Part 2: The Business Value of Agility
Part 3: Obstacles to Agility
Part 4: vCloud Director
Part 5: Stacks: Vblock and more
Part 6: Unified Infrastructure Manager (UIM)
In part 2 not only will we talk about value, but I’ll try do define cloud computing and how it relates to both virtualization and agility.