With my responsibility for IT development for NetApp’s sales/go-to-market strategy, I am constantly searching for ways to speed up our release cycles to deliver new business functionality. And yet, all changes must be evaluated carefully with an eye toward minimizing outages, maintaining quality and properly leveraging limited resources. The pressure is especially intense because business-critical applications are the lifeblood of the company. Like others, our company depends on these systems to give us a competitive edge in the marketplace. Our daily challenge within IT is to maximize current application performance while closely monitoring emerging technology trends that could improve our execution.

 

One of the underlying aspects to this success is the stability of our IT infrastructure. Hiccups in infrastructure performance don’t just affect the front lines of IT. Any major service interruption affects the entire IT management chain. Incident resolution may require calling on resources at all levels to explain to our business counterparts what happened, when and how the issue will be resolved and what permanent changes will follow so that it doesn’t happen again. Addressing these issues takes a tremendous amount of time and effort; it also keeps us looking at the past instead of the future. For most IT shops this cause-and-effect cycle is the norm.

 

This past year, I’ve seen firsthand how NetApp IT has broken out of this cycle. Following a multi-year effort across all disciplines, our IT infrastructure has stabilized to the point where we are no longer experiencing major service disruptions related to our storage infrastructure. Priority or P1 calls at 3 a.m. are a thing of the past. Today infrastructure upgrades happen in the background with no noticeable effect on our applications. Our IT infrastructure has gone quiet?in a good way.

 

A stable IT infrastructure delivers a tremendous benefit to the management of business-critical applications. The most immediate impact is in time. I used to spend 15 percent to 20 percent of my time reacting to issues. Now I can devote that time to building my relationships with my business customers to understand their future needs and capabilities. I can explore what’s down the road and find new, innovative ways for IT to help the business get there.

 

Becoming More Agile

A stable IT infrastructure has also given me time to focus on one of the IT’s biggest challenges: evolving to a more agile, flexible environment. This environment is one where we invest in technologies that give us a competitive advantage, and standardize our legacy and traditional systems to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

 

We are on a journey with two parallel paths. We are transitioning traditional, non-competitive business applications to proven, off-the-shelf platforms that require minimal customization. At the same time, we are investing heavily in developing the applications that will give NetApp a clear competitive edge. That means we must evaluate emerging technologies while we find ways to maintain and standardize our resource-intensive legacy apps.

 

For example, we are consolidating our customer support web site onto one platform. Currently, a service change has to be coded and tested in multiple languages because it involves multiple applications. This process is both time- and resource-intensive.

 

By unifying systems and processes across the business, we can streamline the development cycle to drive substantial efficiency gains. Being on a single platform eliminates data inconsistencies and allows us to refresh our sub-production ecosystems more easily, reducing the number of potential issues that arise. Long term, we gain agility and the ability to adopt new technologies much faster.

 

Why is speed so important to IT? Technology is evolving even more quickly now than in the past. Companies that can embrace new technologies faster will be able to leverage and benefit from the new capabilities sooner. This translates to a competitive advantage. Second, by standardizing our technology we can consolidate the skills required to manage the technology, which in turn enables us to scale our resources faster. This allows us to adapt to change more quickly than we can today. IT has now moved from being a passive contributor to playing a strategic role in moving NetApp forward.

 

My life has changed significantly from a few months ago, thanks to the stability of our storage environment. I am no longer looking in the rear-view mirror but at the road ahead. For IT applications directors such as myself, the ability to directly help the business move forward to meet the challenges of the future is the most interesting and important aspect of our jobs.

 

The NetApp-on-NetApp blog series features advice from subject matter experts from NetApp IT who share their real-world experiences using NetApp’s industry-leading storage solutions to support business goals. Want to view learn more about the program? Visit www.NetAppIT.com.

RobertStumpf