A Practical Guide to Microservices and Containers

by James A. Scott

What is Digital Transformation and Why the Urgency Today?

There are both consistent and compelling reasons why digital transformation is in many cases the hottest topic in boardrooms, conference rooms, and around corporate lunch tables. Business and IT leaders alike have come to the common conclusion that they must transform the way the enterprise does business or risk going out of business entirely. In the recent Voice of the Enterprise Storage survey from 451 Research of 500 senior IT decision makers, two thirds of respondents said their businesses will require moderate to significant transformation in the next five years.1

For example, venerable banks must transform to deal with the literally hundreds of well-funded ‘fin techs’ – non-traditional, well-funded, low-cost online-only banks gaining great favor with millennials and other high-growth demographic groups. Another venerable industry, hospitality, is being rocked to its core by the likes of Airbnb, HomeAway and others and their all-digital approach to linking global travelers to rooms. Businesses stood in awe as Uber and Lyft utterly and irreversibly disrupted a century-old industry by leveraging their digital native expertise and the ubiquity of smartphones.

Power of digital transformation

Digital transformation is essentially a remaking and reforming of how an enterprise serves all its constituencies, including its customers, employees, and business partners. It further defines processes that support continuous operations improvement, fearlessly disrupting existing businesses and entire markets while inventing new business models and even new businesses along the way. And as the name implies, digital transformation fully leverages digital technologies in a highly strategic, carefully planned way to effect these profound changes. Just consider the examples above as illustrations of the awesome power of digital transformation.

Thus it is business imperatives that are driving digital transformation. The question then becomes what will enable digital transformation?

The answer is, nothing short of the most significant overhaul and re-platforming of the IT infrastructure in the last 30 years (see fig.1-1 below). And the reason is this: The fast-emerging newer technologies that will drive the applications and workloads in the transformed enterprise include the likes of big data analytics, containers, Internet of Things (IoT), and hyper-aggressive cloud adoption. The traditional or legacy systems initially put in service in the late 1980s simply cannot support these technologies in an efficient or effective way, if at all. This infrastructure overhaul will be the key on-ramp to digital transformation.

A Once-in-30-Year Re-Platforming of the Enterprise
Figure 1-1.

Fully leveraging all the data

As an example consider one major technology for which those legacy systems were built, namely data warehouses. Using archived data that was scrubbed, structured and otherwise made ‘warehouse-ready’, IT would apply various business intelligence reporting tools to view this historical data and mine insights to drive decision-making. This whole process took time, weeks in some cases.

Today, businesses compete ferociously to boost time to market of mission-critical products and services. Doing so means working with ever-larger data sets from an expanding universe of data sources, including social media, third parties, government sources, private research sources, IoT sources, and of course a constant in-flow of operational data. Increasingly this data is semi or completely unstructured, and legacy systems choke on both data types.

All of this is incompatible with the desire of businesses to marry operational data in real time to the output of business analytics tools from data warehouses. (See fig. 1-2 below). It isn’t enough to simply have this data warehouse output analyzing sales and other data from the previous quarter. Rather businesses need to match those insights with real-time analysis of current operational and other data to gain entirely new insights and make far more timely business decisions.

Converged Data Platform
Figure 1-2.

Data siloes need not apply

But this cannot be done when warehouse data resides in one cluster and operational data is in another. Something new is needed, and that is converged data platforms, which will be discussed more fully later on. Think of converged infrastructure as the planned, strategic combination as well as integration of all computing resources – hardware, networking and software – effectively eliminating silos and allowing the seamless yet secure flow of data between clusters.

Enterprises are already at work shifting spending to infrastructure that will support digital transformation. As shown in Fig. 1-3 below, over the next four years, companies will experience flat IT spending. But underneath that will be a steady decrease in legacy spending accompanied by a corresponding increase in spending behind next generation technologies. The key to reducing costs while driving innovation is the data. In fact, the forecast also shows that within four years 90% of data and workloads will be handled on next generation technology.

Industry Leaders Are Investing in Disruptive Technology Now
Figure 1-3.

The bottom line is that enterprises that experience the most success expanding market share will be those not with the most data but with the most data agility, which is the ability to generate the fastest and most appropriate response to changes in customer demand.

1451 Research, Voice of the Enterprise Storage survey of 501 senior IT decision makers, Q2 2016, https://451research.com/dashboard/customer-insight/voice-of-the-enterprise/voice-of-the-enterprise_storage