The Tao of IT: Lesson 1

A few months ago I visited One Wilshire, a 25-story building at Wilshire and Grand in downtown Los Angeles. One Wilshire is a carrier hotel – that is, a point at which various service providers interconnect with each other – managed by CRG West, a data centre and property management company. One Wilshire is nothing short of astounding. The building houses more than 200 tenants, including AT&T, Broadwing, Cable & Wireless, Global Crossing, Level 3, PacBell, Qwest Communications, Sprint, Time Warner, Verizon and XO Communications, and provides U.S. connections for every Asian carrier of any note.

The scale of this 656,000-square-foot facility is staggering. Its power comes from three 34.5kVA mains, it has eight 2MW generators (customers own three more 2MW generators in the facility) and 150 incoming cableways turn into more than 1,000 vertical conduits inside the building.

Even more amazing is that just across the street is another slightly smaller carrier hotel owned by CRG West, and a third 450,000-square-foot data center is 1.5 miles away. Add to that CRG’s other 90 North American facilities totaling more than one million square feet and you have a staggering scale of operations.

Companies that use the likes of One Wilshire’s facilities know something important: Ownership doesn’t matter. They have discovered an aspect of the Tao of IT: Possession is an illusion, and when it comes to IT services, the way of “less is more” is more, not less.

So, Grasshopper, this week I want to discuss the Tao of IT. You might be asking, “What is the Tao of IT?” Asking such a question shows that you know nothing, yet you know everything, for not knowing and knowing embody the essence of the Tao, the one and the zero, the “and” and the “nand,” the Linux and the Windows. Today’s lesson in the Tao is about distinguishing between what is wanted and what is needed, and how these are often confused in IT.

A decade ago the idea of hosting was catching on for public-facing services. Want a Web site? Host it. This was an easy decision, because running a Web site wasn’t something we were doing in-house. Some companies did go for hosting their own sites, but most of us were aware that we didn’t know much about the security and management of such beasts, so handing off the icky detailsto a service provider was a great idea.

Today, we’re moving toward devolving responsibility for running not only Web sites out of house but also major applications. This is the province of software-as-a-service, and it is the embodiment of the Tao of IT.

In the age of utility computing, when processing cycles can be purchased on demand and scaled as needed, there’s not much sense in making capital investments to support a potentially changing need. If you try to do such a thing you are simply giving in to a “want,” something that is only justified by an emotional attachment to control that is illusory.

Just look at all the IT publications that have discussed power consumption recently. This underlines that IT is thinking about operations when it should be thinking about information management. Sure, the cost of electrical power now rivals the cost of manpower, but doesn’t that underline the fact that as IT people we’re thinking about and managing the wrong things?

Here are a few questions to ponder and respond to: What do you need to own to make IT work? What is it that you own just because you want to? How will you transition from owned computing to utility computing? And if your CFO is alone in the forest, is he still wrong?

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