Disaster Looms! Why Viewing Your IT Systems
as a "Utility" is MUST

by Charles L. Nault

You walk into your office and flip a switch and the lights immediately illuminate. Had the lights NOT immediately illuminated, your day would be quickly ruined. You would likely become aggravated very fast and there's a good chance too that someone would have to answer for this. You EXPECT a utility like power and electricity to simply be there at your fingertips, at all times, barring the proverbial unforeseen catastrophic act of God.

Information Technology (IT) has now joined power, electricity, heat, air conditioning in this same "utility" status. Just about everywhere, at the very least from an expectation standpoint, your network infrastructure absolutely must be up and running every minute of every day, keeping your internet access open, your phone system dependable and clear, and a host of other mission-critical applications that you, your company, your people, your customers cannot hope to function properly without.

Recently the editor of CIO Magazine, Richard Pastore, wrote a piece touting "convergence" as the new CIO buzzword. This new term replaces the age-old mantra of "alignment." Convergence, Pastore claims, now transcends alignment in that IT is no longer a separate, side entity just trying to fit in, but instead has grown integral to every aspect, every department, and every strategic goal of your business. Networked technology is now tightly woven into the very fabric of every company.

What is the significance and breadth of this new "utility" mindset?

For one thing, your professional workers must have high speed Internet in their homes and expect as well to seamlessly connect to the office at any time. This includes large corporations and mid- and small-size businesses alike. For another, it means your customers are never cut off from you, that "technical difficulties" never interrupt your services. Otherwise, calamities could be lurking, ready to strike.

Take the case of a client company of mine whose sales depended 95% upon massive advertising campaigns conducted every weekend. Its CEO knew that his firm's network of IT phones and Internet Servers had to be ready to go for the Monday morning load-or else! Before he adopted the IT-as-utility model, he had to endure occasional Monday morning breakdowns, resulting in losses of $50K per HOUR!

When he finally got religion, and revamped his systems by replacing reactive procedures with pro-active monitoring, such beginning-of-the-week traumas came to an end. Now a team of experts closely monitored all his critical devices throughout each weekend so that come Sunday night he could be assured that they would be fully functioning the next morning when his customers, new and old, began calling or hitting the company website. That's what is meant by "utility" service.

What does it take to make your network a continuously fully functional, expeditious, and a safe "utility" network?

It first takes a solid commitment from the company's senior executive team. It means ending the mindset that IT is just a secondary function, that tech troubles will occur from time to time, that effective strategic management is directed toward non-technical matters (finance, product development, operations).

Second, it means investing in your firm with wisdom and confidence. Investing with wisdom means engaging a team of experts from your staff, or a consulting firm or outside vendor, to be sure that your business objectives are in line with current technologies. Someone has got to do some research in order to cut through marketing fluff and determine what is real and practical and what will drive your businesses today.

Investing with confidence means that once you have the roadmap drawn up, you have the right people designing the integration of that technology into your existing network. They must also swiftly and effectively complete the implementation, then provide both pro-active as well as reactive support. This design must take the "utility" approach in that the best products are chosen and configured for full redundancy so that every necessary security risk is considered and mitigated.

Third, install a professional project manager to manage the implementation. True project management here coordinates all the necessary resources, assures timely product delivery, effectively plans and communicates necessary down time, and assures proper documentation. The project plan holds people accountable at every stage of the process to implement all necessary work for meeting the project's milestones and deadlines.

Finally, the transition from implementation to ongoing support must be fully supported. Your project manager will clearly define all the necessary steps for making this transition as smooth as possible. In your firm's "pre-utility" days, ongoing support would mean: "You have a problem, go call IT." Obviously, a terribly reactive, and dismissive, frame of mind.

To qualify as a "utility," your IT systems must be viewed in an entirely new light. For your network to truly become what it needs to be, traditional re-active, half-hearted support must become a thing of the past. Imagine your entire workforce, for example, waiting around to get your firm's email system back up. Imagine this takes a few hours. Do a quick calculation in your head of the potential cost of all this waiting around. Without a utility frame of mind, that image of horror that you come up with is a nightmare waiting to happen.


Charles L. Nault, Chair, Atrion Networking Corporation, is recognized throughout the US for his technical consulting. He has provided training to a number of renowned companies in addition to working closely with Cisco Systems on network design, implementations and support. He can be reached at 401-736-6400 ext. 111 or cnault@atrion.net .

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Copyright 2007 by Charles L. Nault. All rights reserved.

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