Everything is infrastructure

Just as Unix did in the early 1990s, the Linux operating system is bound to take on multiple personalities and come in various vendor flavors, at least for the next few years – something that will make systems integration and the job of the IT infrastructure manager even more of a nightmare.

Look for enterprise software vendors to reposition themselves as master integrators, taking charge of seamlessly tying together everything from legacy transaction systems to Web-enabled e-commerce applications.

And be forewarned: “Wetware” – that’s the latest IT buzzword for people – is your biggest security threat.

Those were just a few of the many, varied, and often wild statements and predictions made by IT leaders during a panel discussion yesterday entitled: Infrastructure: Always On, Always Under Fire at Computerworld’s Premier 100 conference.

To hear the panelists tell it, cost justifying, acquiring, implementing and maintaining a company’s IT infrastructure is about as risky as a game of Russian roulette and no more fun.

“Infrastructure dependency is a lose/tie situation,” said Don Zacherel, chief operating officer at Fremont, Calif.-based S3 Technologies Inc. The reason: “Infrastructure is not strategic. Making money is strategic,” he said.

Consequently, IT managers should always regard infrastructure as a means to a bigger and far more important business end, Zacherel said.

Jon Carrow, director of global IT sourcing and acquisitions at Wyeth-Ayerst Global Pharmaceuticals in Radnor, Pa., advised managers to “buy solutions, not stuff.”

“Buy technology to support the business, not to support an architecture,” he said, adding that infrastructure managers’ aim should be to “build for agility,” always with an eye to the future.

For example, Wyeth is building a provision into all of its software contracts requiring vendors to provide personal digital assistant versions of their software when they become available. “The idea is to anticipate where technology is going and to apply it to investments today,” Carrow said.

In addition to cautioning managers against investing too heavily in Linux in the near term and predicting a new master integrator’s role for enterprise resource planning vendors, Kirill Tatarinov, former chief technology officer at Houston-based BMC Software Inc. and now an independent consultant, predicted that wireless technologies will work to increase the integration challenge significantly during the next few years.

Among other things, Tatarinov said he anticipates a growing interdependency between old and new infrastructure, notably wireless and the mainframe, “which is here to stay.”

In short, “everything is infrastructure,” said Bob Palmer, assistant vice president of e-commerce technology at Lenox, Inc. a Lawrenceville, N.J.-based manufacturer of china and stemware. With Lenox’ direct sales channel – customers buying over the Internet – growing at 110 per cent a year, Palmer said, the company’s strategy is to “try to have redundancy on every layer, including Web servers, database servers, switches, routers and T1 lines.”

The word on that Wetware threat apparently refers to the kind of people who sometimes like to hack into computer systems. No matter how much time, money and effort you throw at security, someone will try to break into your system, said Kevin Humphries, senior vice president of customer revenue systems at Memphis-based FedEx Corp, which has an “always-on” infrastructure policy.

“We’re preparing constantly for the Mitnicks of the world to attack,” Humphries said, referring to convicted computer hacker Kevin Mitnick. “It comes down to how fast and organized you are to respond to an attack because you are going to be attacked.”