Opinion: Business analytics is the precursor to grid

I recently wrote about grid computing and warned against vendors gaining total control of your infrastructure. However, the benefits of efficient resource use with grid computing -- also called utility or on-demand computing -- should not be overlooked.

It all starts with that old IT story: The CIO says a certain business process, perhaps a mortgage application, must be up around the clock and response time has to be less than eight seconds. IT determines that it will take 20 servers to do the job, so naturally the VP of technology buys 40. You can never be too safe.

The point is, whether you're considering an outsourced on-demand solution or an internal one, before you know how much computing power to buy or how to architect your own datacenter to optimize servers and storage in a gridlike configuration, you must know what you already have, how it is being used, and most importantly, what it costs to deliver an application.

I recently learned of one business unit within a company, which shall remain nameless, that had over 2,000 applications running on 4,500 servers worldwide. And no one could really tell which apps or servers were being used. Some were, in fact, not being used at all. Yet IT was budgeted to support those servers, pay for software updates, do backup on data every day, and ship the tapes to the so-called iron mountain for hundreds of servers.

The next time marketing asks to deploy another application, wouldn't it be nice to have a breakdown by cost, department, and location of the applications you are currently delivering to them and if they are actually being used? Some of those applications may need to be retired.

I spoke to Evident Software's Roger Boyce, CEO, and Saul Einbinder, vice president of strategy. Evident is one of the few companies that knows how to determine application delivery costs. Evident doesn't fit into the traditional BI space nor is it really focused on asset management; it looks at IT from a financial perspective. Opsware, formerly Loudcloud, might be considered a competitor in the area of managing IT more efficiently. No matter. Here, in a brief sentence, is Evident's philosophy or business credo: "When you measure for performance, you find performance issues. When you measure for cost, you find cost issues," Boyce told me. Makes sense.

IT needs a view of demand from its business organizations. It also needs to know how demand fluctuates over time and the locations from which that the demand is coming. Only then can IT determine the cost and value of current systems and decide what is needed.

Evident hones in on the communications between the application and the user. It monitors the traffic between the two for each application in the datacenter by putting a device on "the head end" of the datacenter. Einbinder calls it a "network probe that sits on the datacenter connection to the corporate network." That placement enables IT to distinguish each individual server and application, profile how much of the application is being delivered, gather that information, and then create a cost model, set rules about the cost of delivering that communication, correlate the activity and cost to specific business groups and users, and most importantly, provide analytics for reporting.

Is Evident a BI vendor or one that deals in asset management? IT business analytics seems to be the most apt description.

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