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January 03, 2013

The Heterogeneous IT Environment: Challenges and Opportunities

By TMCnet Special Guest
Constantin Delivanis, CEO and co-founder of BDNA

Today’s businesses are heavily dependent on the success of IT initiatives. To keep up with the demands of their peers in business-focused departments, IT teams have deployed a variety of solutions in recent years. These applications come from myriad vendors and often run on multiple and incompatible platforms. Over time, IT teams have pieced together licenses and IT assets based on impulsive decisions. For example, choosing one application solely on price and another based on brand loyalty. All the while, these applications are likely running on hardware selected by employees who are no longer with these companies.

The modern computing environment is a heterogeneous one, and that presents numerous administrative, productivity and security challenges that affect IT and business users. Organizations today have two options for dealing with the heterogeneity problem: they can take a rip-and-replace approach that cannibalizes existing resources, or they can turn the diversity of their IT assets to their advantage.

Technology silos create chaos

Businesses depend upon technology investments that have become unmanageable over the years. IT teams are patching together piecemeal plans for disparate systems and data to share information in a meaningful way. Without a common IT language, however, that task is difficult, if not impossible. Business and IT leaders need to recognize what’s happening within their own organizations and fix it.

There are numerous management tools IT leaders could adopt, but these tools often function around silos of technology. There has traditionally been no simple method for transforming a jumble of enterprise software and hardware into a coherent asset, because all of the individual pieces use different terminology. Let’s take the simple example of application server software. Enterprise architects might refer to the company app server standard as "Websphere 5.3 Enterprise Edition,” but the purchasing department acquires it as "IBM (News - Alert) Websphere Application Server” and operations tracks it as "Websphere 5.3" in its operational repository. These differences in naming make it impossible to reliably and automatically connect or integrate various IT systems of record to extract higher-level insight. And that is just one version of one product from one vendor. Multiply that problem over thousands of IT products, and you get a sense of the challenge of heterogeneity.

These are the questions with which organizations are struggling:

  • Without clarity across systems, how can we manage software licenses or respond to vendor audits?
  • How can we consolidate systems or rationalize software?
  • What strategy will accommodate the new applications, hardware and systems we adopt every day?
  • How do we address the data diversity that is crushing IT and threatening the business?
  • How do we keep pace with cloud and virtualization trends?

Teaching disparate data to speak the same language

The IT and business leaders who are eager to solve this problem can approach it in a number of ways, but only one turns the challenge of heterogeneity into an opportunity. The first option is to simply standardize everything. In theory, IT could decide to only use software from one vendor and hardware from another as a means to reduce the volume and variety of data. Unfortunately, there’s no one vendor that offers everything that a business needs, not to mention the problem of legacy infrastructure and applications that already affects every business. Unfortunately, standardization introduces risk and vendor lock-in. 

A second option is to adopt more management tools, but these tools rarely integrate existing systems. Instead, they either replace them or spit out more data, which intensifies the problem. A third path would be no path at all – just maintaining the status quo. This isn’t feasible either, however, and would actually be regressive.

There is little choice but to solve the core problem and manage different systems in a common manner across the enterprise. People, processes and systems should all be able to refer to the identity of the same products in the same way. By normalizing data against a single version of accurate and reliable information, IT can better support strategic initiatives, derive massive efficiencies and solve the challenge of heterogeneous IT environments.

Constantin Delivanis is CEO and co-founder of BDNA Corporation, creator of Technopedia, the world’s largest IT reference catalog. With more than 450,000 hardware and software products listed from over 11,000 vendors, Technopedia delivers information and technology that enables the common language of IT.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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