Can Infrastructure Be Financially Strategic?

As a CIO, I tried hard to find a path to getting rid of my data center. Today's data centers require one to maintain a redundant power structure, specialized cooling, computer hardware, and networking infrastructure. This is the bare necessity for most data center operations. However, maintaining the facility constitutes a waste of strategic time that might otherwise be better spent on the software and services layers of the operation. 

There are three reasons why some CIOs find themselves in a similar position, because like it or not, they are still required to live with a data center operation daily.

  1. Every time someone mentions doing away with the hardware infrastructure, everyone’s brain lands on laying off the data center staff. Closing part of an operation is hard, and there will indeed need to be maneuvers made with staff to make sure everyone feels they have a home, and that they were treated fairly. There is not a recipe that fits all in a case like this, and each CIO will have to employ his or her best leadership skills to this challenge.
  2. Whenever the cost and advantages were calculated for performing a forklift on the data center into a cloud service provider, it invariably resulted in increased operating costs. Most of the time, a forklift upgrade is a radical and unnecessary approach for considering cloud hosting, but the intellectual exercise of designing it is necessary for understanding the end goal. Questions will ultimately arise, such as,"Am I applying a new strategy, or wasting money and time on an interesting project?" Avoid overshadowing the incredible flexibility that is gained from deploying cloud hosted servers by approaching this conversation from a cost savings perspective. 
  3. Across most of higher education, one of the biggest questions on the mind of administration relates to whether the expense related to data center hosting will be recognized as capital versus budgetary. It is imperative to have a close partnership with business officers for the design of a budgetary strategy that is clear, and that makes the most sense for the institution. However, the burden of showing the total cost of an aging infrastructure, and then connecting it to actionable, future decisions of the institution falls to the CIO. No other executive would choose to make good technology investment decisions based on the recent lessons learned from failing equipment, and so one must prevent that scenario from reaching a tipping point. 

In summary, we are firm believers that the end of traditional data centers is eminent, but progress in that direction depends on our collective ability to get beyond traditional business practices. There are some who have found brilliant solutions and are moving in a refreshing direction that allows for strategy and makes good financial sense. Where does your institution stand?