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Application management – how many apps do you have?

Thine own self thou must know

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A curious fact of IT management is that, quite often, those looking after the administration of the infrastructure lose sight of why all those bits of tin have to be managed at all. In essence it boils down to delivering service to consumers; and for most users ’service‘ really amounts to ’applications’.

As everyone knows, the current economic climate is focusing all managerial attention on saving money and ensuring that whatever is spent is spent wisely. While much attention has been placed on IT expenditure it should be recognised that this is nothing new. One can argue that IT spending has been under the microscope for most, if not all, of the past decade.

Such attention to IT budgets has centred in the last couple of years on server and, more recently, storage consolidation projects where clear, and easily measured, capital benefits can be realised. Said benefits often take the form of reducing expected capital expenditure for new systems as well as a range of collateral benefits with elements as diverse as electricity reductions and computer room/data centre space saving.

Research carried out by Freeform Dynamics shows that server consolidation projects have attracted much attention, but there is plenty of room to take things further. The nature and the extremely wide range of the applications that are being delivered by the IT infrastructure has received little, if any, attention, for example.

In fact, when we have asked organisations how many applications they are supporting and how many are running inside their enterprise, the answers are bewildering.

Apps snaps

Earlier this year we asked some UK based mid-sized organisations (those with between 1,000 and 10,000 staff) how many applications they had to support. Less than a half of respondents said they had fewer than 50 applications to support. Just under one in ten had over 200 applications to look after. A slightly higher percentage admitted that they had no idea how many applications they had to support. Lacking such basic information can be expensive and certainly means considerable risk exposure. After all, if you are not sure of what applications are being delivered, how can you be certain that the associated cost of service is minimised and that adequate quality of service is being delivered?

When we are talking about applications in the hundreds, it is easy to imagine that there many overlap or mimic the functionality of others. This brings us back to the question of application consolidation and, more particularly, whether its time has come? The benefits are clear, especially applications that are being used by a small number of staff in areas that do not deliver high business benefit. Of course, to make such a determination there is a need to know what is being run, for whom, at what cost and for what business benefit or purpose.

But once such information is available, and software discovery and asset management tools clearly have a role to play in this process, a much bigger challenge awaits. And that involves persuading the application users to change. As challenges go, this one is fraught with difficulties no matter how strong the financial or risk benefits might be as it can quickly become political in nature rather than purely objective. But some other issues might help force consideration of application consolidation. These are aligned with other factors that are receiving much attention themselves, namely the virtualization of the underlying IT support infrastructure and the attention being lavished upon so called ’Cloud services‘, at least by IT vendors and marketing agencies.

As already stated, considerable efforts are being expended on virtualizing x86 servers and storage systems. To date, much of this has focused on relatively static systems consolidation intended to raise systems utilisation levels. Once such low hanging fruits have been consumed, then organisations will most likely begin to consider how the flexibility inherent in a virtualized IT infrastructure can be harnessed to deliver benefits beyond simple capital and operational cost savings.

With flexible workload management aligned to business need there will come a desire to ensure that services are operated cost effectively and that support systems can cope with changing demands. I believe that this will help force application consolidation, as it is clear that support systems are already under pressure in static environments and could well implode in more dynamic regimes. Application consolidation will help reduce such pressures.

The potential ease with which the growing array of SaaS services can be consumed may also bring attention back to application consolidation. Without actively managing the consumption of such services, unsustainable pressures will grow on IT support to integrate SaaS applications into the existing infrastructure and to minimise ongoing support costs.

If an organisation finds that departments are actively side-stepping IT and utilising SaaS offerings, this could act as a trigger to bring application consolidation considerations to the fore.

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