Pathway to Stable, Strong IT Infrastructure

Jesse Carrillo, SVP and CIO, Hines
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Recently I found myself in Charleston, SC with my family on our last summer trip before my 12 and 9-year old daughters go back to their studies. Seeing how much of a tech/gaming geek I am, my daughters never had a fighting chance and were destined to be just like Dad; thus, we decided to give the popular “Pokémon Go” game a try. The game has become such an overnight sensation that I wanted to see what it was all about and I thought that Charleston, with its rich history, was a good way to play the game and leverage some sightseeing. It is always good when you can turn a game into a historical or learning experience for your children, because as parents, sometimes we have to be tricky that way.

Although I could write an entire article on the fascination of the game and the amazing ways in which Augmented Reality (AR) is being used, I was struck by something that happened that has made me wonder—how infrastructure will be thought of as my daughters grow up and continue to use technology. As we were walking around Charleston and stopping at what seemed like never-ending “Poke-Stops” and capturing virtual Pokémon that popped up almost out of thin air, the app suddenly froze and we were presented with the never fun, “servers not responding” error message.

I expected my daughters to immediately throw a fit, and if they were allowed to, even start cursing. However, to my amazement, their response was to shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s just locked up again. It happens. We’re used to games locking up and not working. We just wait awhile and they come back. No big deal.”

“No big deal?” When was the last time any of us who are responsible for business systems heard our users in the middle of trying to run payroll, process account payables or close their books at quarter-end respond with “no big deal” when their systems went down. In my career, NEVER!!

  ​The “Pokémon Go” application uses Google Cloud for its backend infrastructure and my company, like many others, is making significant moves and investments in cloud technology.   

The “Pokémon Go” application uses Google Cloud for its backend infrastructure and my company like many others is making significant moves and investments in cloud technology. We would be hard-pressed to find too many startups that are building out their own infrastructure and not leveraging services like AWS, Azure, etc. So, I started to wonder, can the “consumerization of IT” and the fact that many of our users or employees can find or buy their own apps, without the need for IT to implement and deploy systems in the traditional client/server or internal data center approach, be causing us to accept infrastructure that is “just OK.”

In the enterprise world, IT leaders and their staff are graded on and expected to have their corporate systems running optimally, efficiently and reliably. Our infrastructure teams spend significant amounts of their time monitoring, analyzing and proactively testing systems to try and reach the six-sigma standards, which we have all grown up striving to achieve. Yet, in the consumer world, what I hear my daughters say and even I find myself being OK with, are systems and apps going down and not being available 100 percent of the time.

Does this mean that as we move more systems to the cloud, we need to spend more time focusing on messaging and expectations—communicating with our employees that their systems may go down more frequently and that it’s OK, because that’s what happens in their personal lives? I know that my licensing and infrastructure teams heavily scrutinize cloud vendor contracts to make sure they are providing solid services and expect some remediation when their technologies are not available. However,  just how much influence does a normal-size company have on these cloud vendors? These cloud providers don’t have unlimited budgets and resources, so they will also be under similar constraints as any corporate IT shop to run lean and generate a profit.

By no means am I advocating that we don’t utilize these cloud services. To the contrary, I’m a huge proponent and my company continues to move in that direction. However, I wonder if my daughters and the next generation of employees will grow up in a world where systems going down will be “no big deal” and “expected?” Or do we need to start working more closely with our cloud providers to make sure the best practices we’ve all been following in our internal IT shops are being adhered to and followed by all these vendors? We need to also ensure that in their zest to be “first to market” or have the “next big app,” the importance of a stable and strong infrastructure is not being sacrificed. Wait! I just had a Pokémon pop up in the room. Just hope the servers are responding.

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