By Raymond Austin, Solutions Product Marketing, NetApp
The term “app” or “application” has quickly ingratiated itself into the general social vernacular since the widespread adoption of smartphones in recent years. Of course, when someone says “app” most people’s first thought goes to Angry Birds, Candy Crush or other consumer tools/features available on devices.
However, today’s business applications go far beyond just consumer fun and have been in enterprises for years. Applications found in an enterprise provide users with quick and efficient access to financial and healthcare information, remote access to services anywhere in the world, and personalized business workflows. These applications are meant to help organizations gain business insights while improving efficiency and availability, as well as enabling mobility. They manage a variety of information needs and generally fall into three types of workloads (IDC Multi-Client Study, Storage Workloads 2011, September 2011):
While most enterprise applications will generally fall into one of the above, what is defined as “business critical” for a company will often differ based on their industry. For example, having an effective supply-chain management application will be a driving factor for the success of manufacturers. On the other hand, for healthcare facilities, having a robust and efficient electronic health record system is critical for the well-being of patients. For online retailers, real-time analytics and optimization solutions greatly improve a website’s conversion rate. But, regardless of what industry a business operates in, enterprise applications are a critical element to win today.
The evolving technology landscape as well as mounting business and market pressures are making enterprise applications a central component of IT. Changes to federal laws and standards – such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) – are driving businesses to invest in more secure and efficient transactional database applications.
The advancement and growing adoption of analytics, cloud, virtualization and new business intelligence applications are needed to stay competitive.
With so much change, businesses can’t rely on traditional IT and storage models if they hope to remain competitive. Third party enterprise applications from SAP, Microsoft, or Oracle will be integral for all aspects of operations moving forward – from administrative to financial, R&D to marketing.
As such, it is important that IT moves from an operational mindset – day-to-day – to a strategic one – looking at how today’s technology impacts the future bottom-line of the business. To do so means IT has to be aligned with business priorities and work more closely with internal stakeholders to drive business critical initiatives.
Key Drivers of “Criticalness”
Adopting a more strategic mindset also helps IT better understand the three key criteria an application needs to address from a business point-of-view before it’s adopted:
1) Increasing the Speed of Business, i.e. Performance
As with adopting any new piece of technology, improving the speed of business is the first criteria an application owner needs to address. Granted, specific performance improvements will be dictated by the type of workload and industry they operate in. For example, an application, tailored to software developers, will need to improve time-to-market, speed up test/development functional testing and better enable collaboration. For a financial institution, lowering latency to process transactions more quickly and better handling of batch jobs/ sequential workloads during off-peak times will be critical.
At the end of the day, improving performance efficiencies will be top of mind when deciding to bring on a new application. That said, IT will need to demonstrate the financial savings a solution offers to get buy-in from the C-Suite; bringing us to the second criteria.
2) Cost Efficiencies
IT on behalf of the business should deliver higher operational efficiencies by improving overall staff efficiency – which in-turn speeds up development time, lowering costs. For example, most IT departments tend to overprovision which increases cost and maintenance time. By deploying an application that reduces complexity and simplifies processes, management and upkeep will require significantly less resources. Also at times IT will need to deliver specific price/performance requirements for dedicated application workloads.
A discussion about achieving CAPEX and OPEX improvements through technology isn’t complete without talking about the cloud. Most applications today are available through or designed to be integrated into a cloud environment. This allows businesses to take advantage of CAPEX and OPEX savings – i.e. minimizing rack space, administration, operations, power and cooling costs.
3) Achieving Higher Application Availability
While more and more business critical applications move to the cloud to take advantage of OPEX savings, it’s important to understand that not all applications will migrate to the cloud. Some workloads, such as financial and transactional databases, will not move to the cloud due to strict compliance and security restrictions.
That said, cloud is THE topic in IT right now and we’re seeing companies quickly transition to private, public and/or hybrid cloud models. As a result, the traditional IT environment is being drastically altered. As such, today’s business critical applications will need to operate across hybrid cloud environments, as well as work with other systems and applications seamlessly to keep business operations running with enterprise-class availability and protection. Additionally, the amount of data a company generates is only going to grow, so applications will need to be able to manage data consistently and without disruption during peak workloads today and five years down the road. Data needs a lifespan that stretches beyond the individual components of the infrastructure to deliver nondisruptive operations and maintain data accessibility 24/7. It is no secret that a significant portion of downtime can be attributed to application and database upgrades and changes. This is no small consideration of criticalness.
Ultimately, in the age of big data and cloud, the value of enterprise applications is clearly only going to go up. The combination of cloud, social, analytics, and the Internet of Things is driving major changes in businesses. To manage the complexity of change, IT needs to approach the challenge strategically to come up with new approaches, and implement technology and service offerings that accommodate business needs over time. The role of enterprise applications will be critical for businesses to improve efficiencies and remain competitive. Granted, not every business fundamental will change to the same degree; however, one thing will be constant – for enterprises that decide to “wait and see,” it will be game over.