Updated Date: Dec 26, 2014 13:38 PM
Why Digital Business means going web-scale
The era of Digital Business has arrived, in which successful companies are defined by their ability to respond quickly and effectively to transient business moments. Established approaches to IT infrastructure, operations and software development – still well suited to more traditional back-office applications of IT - simply do not offer the speed, flexibility and scalability needed to enable value creation from business moments.
Cameron Haight, research vice president at Gartner, explains why businesses that employ Web-scale IT are better positioned to thrive in this new digital world.
What is Web-scale IT?
Cameron: It’s a term coined by Gartner to describe the new approaches to computing pioneered by cloud services firms such as Google, Amazon, Rackspace, Netflix, Facebook and so on. These approaches potentially enable orders of magnitude of improved service delivery when compared to many of their enterprise counterparts. Gartner has identified six elements to Web-scale IT: industrially-designed datacentres, Web-oriented (or microservices) architectures, programmable management, velocity-focused processes, a collaborative organisation style and an innovation-centric and learning culture.
That sounds a bit like DevOps, what’s the difference?
Cameron: It does. The last few elements listed above are also associated with, and discussed in, the context of DevOps. However, Web-scale IT also includes changes to infrastructure and applications that complement DevOps capabilities. For many organisations, DevOps will be the first step towards their Web-scale IT future by bringing development and operations together in a coordinated way to drive rapid, continuous, incremental development of applications and services within the enterprise.
What are the benefits of Web-scale IT?
Cameron: At the level of IT, Web-scale architectures found in companies like Facebook are highly scalable, because the performance levels are achieved by large numbers of efficient non-specialised nodes, and commodity x86 servers, rather than the kind of specialised systems that are often found running today’s corporate applications.
The combined resources of these many nodes are then pooled to create a computing fabric for allocation according to demand. Web-scale hardware is relatively inexpensive and readily available, and so are the blueprints for a Web-scale datacentre, through open-source projects. When more computing power or storage is needed, there’s no need to re-architect the entire system, just add more nodes. If a node breaks, just replace it with another because applications have usually been designed to accommodate infrastructure failure.
Controlling the network of nodes is integrated software which – as opposed to hardware controls – can “re-program” the system to meet changing dynamics. The system is inherently resilient as data, metadata and operations are distributed across large numbers of small replaceable nodes, and possibly even across multiple datacentres. The increased scalability and efficiency of this form of IT can be used to rapidly enable new digital business models in almost any industry, while lowering costs – essentially it is bringing economies of scale (and speed) to computing power.
Each business will have different needs, strategies and priorities that can be served by this revolution, but bringing the principles of Web-scale IT into the organisation is a step towards being able to rapidly enable digital products and services faster than the competition, and in tune with market demand. The flexibility and agility enshrined in the IT infrastructure enables a DevOps approach that can in turn make IT the driver of innovation and profit.
My business will never be as big as Google, does this apply to me?
Cameron: While perhaps the most obvious benefits apply to web-facing organisations with huge computing needs, like Google or Amazon, the ability to scale can be seen in many ways apart from simply size or volume. For example - we can measure agility and resilience on a scale, and many smaller businesses base their business model on being more agile than the larger players in their market, being able to respond faster to customer needs and market demand. A smaller business could achieve a higher IT velocity than its bigger rivals through Web-scale IT, enabling first mover advantage with new opportunities.
In addition, through a mixture of cloud services and in house equipment that is right for their organisation, a Web-scale approach can turn IT into a tangible competitive advantage for smaller companies in the way it has for internet giants. Web-scale techniques are applicable to organisations of many sizes, and can be adapted to support a wide range of business outcomes.