Saturday, December 22, 2012

Plumbing the Taxonomy: Why? Part E - Analysis and Planning

One of the things that really annoys me about modern business IT is that the decision makers and their closest advisers, including IT Architects, often have no clue about the role of the mainframe in their environments, even though they've bet their businesses on this most reliable of platforms decades ago, and would not survive without it.

As a result, you get some very odd and skewed perceptions and depictions. One of these is the IT Architecture diagram, a poster-sized picture of an organization's IT context that the Architect has spent a very long time fine-tuning to make it look just right. If you were to take into account all the time and effort that goes into one of these posters, they could easily be seen to have cost an organization over $100,000 to produce - which is nothing compared to their potential cost to the organization if done wrong.

Which they invariably are if the role of the mainframe is missing or understated - which it almost always is. Because the architect will spend months talking to all the people who have servers and routers, closets full of IT devices, and special projects, and create a politically-correct depiction of what they heard from all the people they talked to. And maybe they briefly talked to one or two mainframe-relevant people, and maybe they even stuck a picture of a little mainframe in the bottom right corner of the diagram just to keep from annoying those legacy dinosaurs. But the glorious new technology that is lighting the way and has all the political weight: that is far and away the bulk of the diagram.

Except that, if the IT Architect were to draw a picture that took into account the business value and essential role of each device, the mainframe would take up an unweildy majority of the poster, as it is the keeper of the corporate jewels - but that's "not fair" to all the other IT people affected.

And if the IT Architect were to draw a picture that shows the role of every machine in every application, the mainframe would show up as the foundational platform for just about every major application, with the other platforms providing barely more than cosmetic additions and user interfacing, but the essential data and processing held firmly on the mainframe.

The problem: politics and ignorance (and you thought IT would save us from the human condition). The other platforms take so many people to maintain them that they have far more political weight than the mainframe. And the mainframe works so invisibly well that everyone only notices the squeaky wheel and sizzle platforms that are barely more than nail polish on the underlying functionality provided by the mainframe.

But what has this rant to do with the "Analysis and Planning" value in the "why" dimension? This: not only does the mainframe offer so much value that any legitimate IT Architecture diagram would be mostly mainframe with tiny bits of the other platforms scattered like ornaments on a tree (like the seasonal reference?), but properly characterizing, understanding, and building on that value has the potential to bring more business value to the organization that is paying for IT like few other cost-effectiveness initiatives could.

And the software with this role gives the needed insights into resource configuration, usage, and future scenarios, therefore playing a role with significant business value, ensuring that the return on investment for the mainframe just keeps going up, regardless of what the IT Architects and other decision makers may decide to do with the minor platforms in the environment.  

This is especially important combined with proactively responding to new initiatives - but that's the next (and last) value on this dimension, so I'll save that for the next blog post.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Plumbing the Taxonomy: Why? Part D - Cost-Effective Operations

The "KISS" principle ("Keep It Simple, Stupid" or some gentler variation on that) has long been a key principle for effective living and business. It is closely related to keeping things affordable, as simplicity tends to be a good countermeasure against unnecessary expenditures.

In large-scale IT, keeping to these two principles is essential to maintaining the proper cost-benefits balance that keeps IT viable rather than it becoming an upward spiral of price and complexity.

So, this value of the "why" dimension is all about the business benefit of well-run IT. Over the years, many efforts have been made to document and codify how this is done - one of the more successful ones is ITIL - the Information Technology Infrastructure Library. Interestingly, this definitive set of guides that characterize a well-run environment is essentially the depiction of a functioning mainframe environment - in this case, the one at the British Government.

Where the software relevance comes in here is the selection of tools which create a layer of business-enabling simplicity, keeping IT easily manageable and consequently paying for itself. And that's an important business value!