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Technology Corridor

The next big trend is to make network resources more interchangeable and less expensive.
Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 2003

The next big trend is to make network resources more interchangeable and less expensive.

Information technology (IT) infrastructure should be more like the infrastructure that generates electricity, IT consultants say, and at least one Texas utility is listening.

Forrester Research labels its vision for IT infrastructure "Organic IT" and promises that this new kind of infrastructure will save companies big bucks in the long run, without requiring a rip and replace of existing hardware and software.

But how much of this lovely vision is just IT consultant-speak?

Travis Crenshaw, vice-president of IT at TXU, says he has been looking at what Forrester calls Organic IT, and META Group calls adaptive infrastructure, since early 2002. For Crenshaw, this vision of IT infrastructure gives him and TXU the ability to spend the same money on IT, but "to ride it further," even with an increased workload for the department.

"After Texas deregulation, we still have other costs and projects to absorb-for example, a 200 percent growth in server infrastructure alone," he says. Despite such a large spike in work, Crenshaw has added only 20 percent more staff. So instead of outright savings, an organic approach may achieve a cost avoidance. Nonetheless, Crenshaw expects that by 2005, TXU will save 30 percent on IT.

In today's economic climate, it's easy to say that your company doesn't have the money to make dramatic structural or organizational changes, Crenshaw says. But that philosophy doesn't fly with him. People in an organization must be challenged to be creative about using resources, he says. Organic IT is one way his IT department has met the challenge of today's business climate.

In today's economic climate, it's easy to say that your company doesn't have the money to make dramatic structural or organizational changes, Crenshaw says. But that philosophy doesn't fly with him. People in an organization must be challenged to be creative about using resources, he says. Organic IT is one way his IT department has met the challenge of today's business climate.

Restructuring IT

Today's IT infrastructure requires every software application or computer network to have its own individual set of resources, whether servers, storage, or network connections. For example, most utilities use dedicated servers, disk storage, network access, and IT administrators for their PeopleSoft systems, and an entirely different array of those elements for their customer relationship management (CRM) package.

But it's a very expensive way to build an infrastructure. Forrester says large companies typically use approximately 20 percent of their total IT capacity. Imagine how many power plants the country would need if they used only 20 percent capacity for most of their operating time. That, in essence, is the structure of IT in today's large companies. It's akin to having electricity supplied exclusively by distributed generation.

Instead, Forrester says, IT should be structured more like the electricity grid, which spreads the power generation function amongst many plants and re-allocates power generation on the fly, as demand shifts or plants go offline for repairs.

In a nutshell, Forrester argues that within the next five years, IT will

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