Managing IT infrastructure has always been a headache for businesses and the efforts to align IT operations with the business strategy yet another challenge. Enterprises need responsive and cost-effective IT infrastructures, which can rapidly adapt to changes in business processes. This need for responsive IT infrastructures is becoming more pressing in our era, where companies have to be agile and adaptive to continually changing market conditions. IT Infrastructure Management is a discipline that, when done right,can ensure flexibility, scalability, high-performance and cost-effectiveness of IT infrastructures in a way that fulfills rapidly changing business needs and achieves overall effectiveness. In practice, Infrastructure Management manages IT policies, processes, equipment, data and related human resources. The management of equipment includes hardware, software, workstations, servers, network and storage devices, security devices, laptop and desktop systems and more. This is the reason why IT infrastructure management is in several cases divided into sub-categories such as systems management, network management, and storage management.
Nowadays, CIOs (Chief Information Officers) are offered different ways to manage their IT infrastructure, including both, on premise and remote management methods. Furthermore, they have the opportunity to outsource IT infrastructure management operations, as modern technology and the internet facilitates remote management of systems and devices. CIOs must therefore select the best option that would enable them to maximize the effectiveness of their IT operations and subsequently improve their business results.
Goals of Infrastructure Management
In general, infrastructure management is driven by the following goals:
- Ensure flexibility and adaptability: In today’s competitive global environments, enterprises need to be able to respond to changing customer demand, while at the same time reinventing themselves through changes in business operations or even their organizational chart. All these changes require modifications to IT infrastructure as well. Hence, IT infrastructure management should ensure that IT infrastructures (such as computers, networks, servers and data centers) can be easily changed and adapted to evolving business needs.
- Ensuring adherence to standards: Adherence to standards and regulations is one of the main concerns of enterprises. The scope of such standards compliance includes data protection, compliance to privacy and security mandates, as well as auditing of operations against industry specific regulations (e.g., Basel II in the financial services industry and compliance with the HIPPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) in healthcare). IT infrastructure management provides the means for automated and cost-effective compliance to these regulations and standards, based on the specification and enforcement of security and auditing processes on the IT infrastructure, but also based on the creation and use of appropriate IT policies.
- Reduce duplication of effort: Based on the specification and implementation of proper policies on the IT infrastructure, enterprises can streamline operations and avoid duplication of effort in both IT operations (e.g., patching servers or updating security policies) and IT-based business operations (e.g., producing reports).
- Boost interoperability within the organization and with business partners: Infrastructure management facilitates enterprises to avoid fragmentation of data and systems comprising the IT infrastructure. IT “silos” within an organization are difficult and costly to maintain and hence IT infrastructure management strives to remove them by creating virtualized infrastructures that federate existing systems and scale seamlessly. Likewise, IT infrastructure management ensures interoperability with the IT systems of business partners in cases where communication between them is required (e.g., supply chain operations).
- Effective centralized change management: Change management is always painful as it impacts people, processes and infrastructures in an organization. ΙΤ infrastructure management ensures that change management policies are transparently maintained and consistently enforced. The above-listed goals should be pursued in a dynamic, rather than in a static fashion. This means that infrastructure management is not only about regular upkeep of IT systems and operations but is also associated with a continuous improvement discipline which regularly changes policies in-line with the evolution of business operations in order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and get the most out of the infrastructure’s flexibility and scalability.
Infrastructure Management Standards
Continuous improvement is an integral element of IT services management standards and methodologies, which include infrastructure management aspects. Several organizations (typically large ones) exploit IT service management standards in order to gain access to proven best practices about managing their infrastructure and services. Two of the most prominent IT service management standards that include infrastructure management aspects are:
- ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library): ITIL provides a set of good practices for managing IT services in an organization, in a way that ensures IT and business alignment. ITIL provides a standard way for service management, since it underpins the ISO/IEC 20000 international service management standard. ITIL comes with a set of processes, tasks and checklists for planning, implementing and measuring the performance of IT services, in order to support the organization’s business strategy. The ITIL processes are independent of the type and nature of the organization. Organizations that deploys ITIL can customize these processes to their business goals and needs, as required. IT infrastructure (e.g., servers, networks, devices, data centers) is indispensable to the delivery of IT services. Hence, ITIL processes specify how IT infrastructure should be managed in order to meet specific service goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
- COBIT (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies): COBIT is another framework that comprises best practices for information technology (IT) management and IT governance. It specifies a set of generic processes for IT management, which cover information systems and technologies. COBIT practices define the ways in which IT services depend on IT infrastructure, including ways for associating IT services performance and resilience to the underlying IT resources. The COBIT process model (which is applied to IT infrastructures) comprises four domains i.e. Plan and Organize; Acquire and Implement; Deliver and Support; and Monitor and Evaluate.
Infrastructure Management Outsourcing
One of the main strategic decisions for CIOs, in terms of infrastructure management, relates to the outsourcing of infrastructure management. The rationale behind an outsourcing decision is mainly twofold:
- Cost-efficiency and human resources savings: Organizations want to avoid having their employees spending precious time on tedious and time-consuming tasks, such as troubleshooting and updating IT servers and networks. To this end, they can opt to outsource their infrastructure management services. This would allow them to optimize their productivity, respond quickly to client problems and demand, while reallocating IT personnel to other business critical tasks.
- Access to expertise: High-quality infrastructures management services are typically offered by IT teams with world-class expertise. Hence, outsourcing provides CIOs with access to infrastructure management expertise that is hardly available within their own IT team. This provides opportunities for increased cost-effectiveness and optimizations that cannot be performed in house.
While outsourcing provides clear advantages, some organizations still go for in-house solutions for reasons related to trust and their desire to have full control over infrastructure operations. The final decision on whether to outsource or not includes the evaluation of various trade-offs and the calculation of value for money. Moreover, CIOs can choose whether to outsource all aspects of infrastructure management or selected ones, such as aspects related to data center management, end-user computing, technical support and more.
By and large, infrastructure management is a key to organizational productivity and excellent business results. It’s probably time to reflect on how you currently manage your IT infrastructure and what can be done to get the most out of it.