Monday, April 06, 2015

A discussion with the CEO on server and storage sizing

It was time to refresh the data center with existing infrastructure completing its lifecycle; some of the equipment was end of life with no support available, the rest needed replacement to ensure that the company stays current with technology. The IT team gathered all the data and statistics on usage to arrive at new configurations that will serve them for the next 3-4 years. All interested vendors contributed to the technology evaluation with differentiated solutions promoting esoteric features that normally don’t matter.

The team assimilated the information overload with judicious sifting that created a clear picture aligning the need to the offerings. It was a fair comparison where technology took precedence over comfort with any specific vendor or technology. To be doubly sure, the team reached out to peers and seniors across the industry to validate the recommendation. After a few iterations, all of it came through as good to go. To conclude the exercise, a presentation was prepared for the CEO who would needed to approve the budget and bless the project.

The CEO was known to be a technophile who kept the CIO and the rest of IT on their toes; he was well read, well connected and at times deep dived into finer details that most techies would find hard to hold a conversation. He was the force behind the company adopting IT in the way they did, spending judiciously and yet remaining current with industry evolution; recent times had seen a slowdown in investments and it was time to play catch-up. D-day arrived and the CIO along with the team was ready to present.

Why have you chosen the configuration that you present ? What are my options with engineered systems or for that matter Public Cloud ? Why do I need to invest in 50 TB of storage upfront; how can I stagger the deployment ? Why have you chosen 12 core processors over 16 core ? Why not 1.2 TB disks or SATA drives which offer higher capacity ? Why is the number of VMs so low per physical box ? Where is your Cloud strategy ? The discussion went on for an hour with the CEO throwing question after question at the team.

The team could field only some and ran out of answers after some time; they promised to rework the solution with clarifications sought and inputs given. They were not expecting the kind of questions asked, they had prepared the business case based on transaction volume, new systems underway and planned, business growth and new initiatives that the business had planned over the next few years. It was as if the tables had turned on them with the CEO going technical while they had focused on business outcomes.

Is this a reality for large number of CIOs or just an exception to the rule where CEOs and CXOs rarely get into technology discussions citing ignorance and the fact that they find technology unfathomable ? Scanning the horizon I find that this breed of techno savvy CXOs is beginning to grow; they may not be able to differentiate between SAS and NL-SAS drives or size storage based on IOPS, they do understand basics that matter and are able to hold their own based on reasonable understanding of technology; all thanks to tech going mainstream media.

This world is antonymous to the world I wrote about last week (My CFO thinks he knows technology). There are people who know technology and use their expertise where it matters and there is a breed who thinks who know and want to show off in various forums. The first engage and challenge you to find better solutions, the other group ends up being a pain with their pseudo expertise. It takes little effort to see through the fa├žade of the latter who can derail the best of hard work by seeding random thoughts of doubt.

Having worked with both camps, I found that opportunities can be created with the technophiles to engage and innovate depending on your risk appetite and ability by staying updated with finer nuances of technology. This may sound contradictory to the well beaten drum that CIOs need to move away from technology to business; my view is that CIOs cannot leave their foundations for purportedly greener pastures; they need to stay grounded in their domain while learning the newer skills and moving forth.

After all if the CFO does not know about IRR, NPV or ROA (Return on Assets), s/he will become a liability to the organization !

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