As technologies develop and evolve, new terms (or "buzzwords" for the cynical) come to light to describe growing trends in the enterprise. "Mainframe," "personal computer," "world wide web" (anyone remember its related phrase "the information superhighway?"), "distributed computing," "big data," "outsourcing" and "cloud computing" are all examples. Some have fallen by the wayside and others remain in full force.
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"Fast IT" is a relatively new term which joins the ranks. Like all innovations, it's intended to fill a need: in this case a handy Cisco whitepaper refers to it as a need for speed (with a nod on my part to "Maverick" and "Goose" from "Top Gun.")
Traditional IT (aka "Core IT") - in which hardware, software and services are deployed via standard procedures involving focus group/stakeholder interviews, research, planning, budgeting, implementation, fine-tuning bug-chasing, training and documentation - has been perceived as a hulking behemoth. And with good reason; user and company needs often advance much more quickly than traditional IT can handle. Yesterday's hype is tomorrow's business foundation. Long-term projects which stagnate can adversely impact the health of an organization and its technological priorities by not delivering results in time. There's no room for the "two steps forward / one step back" phenomena. IT often needs to be "three steps forward." The goal is to be nimble or get left behind.
And so Fast IT is based on the need for speedy and reactive IT which can leverage new capabilities. Here are ten themes behind it which illustrate where it comes from and where it's going.
1. It requires a new way of thinking, planning and responding
It's not enough to just say IT has to be "better, stronger and faster." You can't just cut the deployment time for 200 servers from 6 weeks to 2 weeks by working three times as hard, skipping sleep and family time. This is not traditional IT on steroids; the Fast IT mindset involves using new technology to build newer technology, in a self-perpetuating cycle dependent on the tools and factors I'll outline further below.
2. Its based on the Internet of Things and the cloud
Fast IT is based on the ability to leverage the Internet of Things (IOE) and the cloud to gain insights into company needs -in fact, these same concepts drive Fast IT both in building the foundation and establishing said needs. As the internet expands from servers, workstations and legacy storage to handheld devices, wearables, household items, vehicles, houses and environmental sensors, and off-site storage, the ability to dynamically provision services and monitor company processes grows in priority as well. Fast IT is the child of IoE, with DNA from other late-breaking concepts as well.
3. Data is a key factor
If IoE and the cloud represent the vehicle driving Fast IT, data is the fuel.
You need to know where the problem areas in your infrastructure lie? Data can tell you.
You need to be able to respond rapidly to customer demands? Data can provide the criteria.
You need to aggregate information from and to a number of mobile, handheld and personal devices used company business purposes? That's to enable your staff to work with data when and where they need to and thus benefit the business.
Data, data, data - it builds and answers needs. I've said it before, but it remains my mantra: without data, all of our nifty gadgets and infrastructural backbones are meaningless. Water pipes containing only air serve no meaning. IT is about content delivery, pure and simple. And speaking of simple...
4. Simplification is the backbone
Complexity is to IT management what garlic is to vampires, with the exception that vampires don't naturally create garlic. IT breeds complexity like fat on a steak, and Fast IT is intended to trim that fat. Another favorite saying of mine is that you can't manage what you can't measure. In today's uber-connected world of disparate networks, bring your own device policies, and companies merging like soap bubbles in the shower, complexity is becoming more and more of a problem.
IT's proverbial Swiss Army knife has gone from the four or five tools it had when I entered the field 20+ years ago to several dozen or hundred, depending on the company and industry. Bringing the environment down to a simplified, manageable scope to permit flexibility and rapid response to changing needs is essential for IT to remain relevant. But there's a hitch...
5. Security is still an integral component
The significance of protecting company data and resources is not lost in the push for fast IT. This is one ball nobody can afford to drop, especially with companies suffering breach after breach every week. Fast IT not only must factor in security but be dependent upon security for it to work. Provisioning a new cloud service for users to collaborate remotely won't do if it's wide open for attack by outside individuals.
6. It's intended to complement shadow IT
"Shadow IT" is basically a scenario whereby end-users attempt to make an end run around IT by implementing their own resources, services and devices. For instance, a Marketing VP might provision a company blog on an external provider so that users can collaborate on articles outlining what's going on at the organization. The mindset behind this is often based on the premise that IT isn't responsive - or permissive - enough, so why not take advantage of "do it yourself" technologies which are often free?
Well, what if the Marketing VP who set up this blog forgot to secure access with a complex password, and also neglected to arrange backups? If the blog - which may contain both public and private "when do we release this?" notes) got hacked and all the data compromised that VP and the company would be up the proverbial creek. Fast IT is intended to provide the tools users need so that they don't have to circumvent IT, but rather work hand in hand together to achieve simultaneous goals and objectives.
7. It's based on the Agile mindset
So far I've talked about concepts and process, but where is the actual beef to support it? Well, the fast-moving and flexible notion of Agile programming is tied in here, showing Fast IT isn't exclusively the realm of the system administrator or network architect.
Wikipedia states that "Agile software development is a group of software development methods in which solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continuous improvement, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change."
As Information-age.com describes Fast IT and how it relates to Agile, "on the fast track, projects are developed at speed, sometimes weeks or even days. Iterations and upgrades are continuous and development is managed via agile methods characterised by short sprints, typically two-to-three weeks duration. Experimentation is king and modern toolkits and loosely scripted languages reign. This new IT professional is dynamic, nimble and focused on delivery at speed -not on fine-grained details. Equipped with the tools that he or she chooses to achieve this goal, the fast IT developer is experimental and open to the next wave of hot technologies. The mindset is user- and business-oriented with the communication skills to respond to business needs and involve them in the feedback process."
8. The infrastructure has to beef up to support it
Did I mention beef in my last point? Meat is a recurring theme in this article. Fast IT is based on meaty ideas as well as a meaty physical backbone to process these. Those proverbial water pipes can't just support a trickle - they need to be able to handle the deluge of information and access to resources. This means more storage, greater computational power, faster and more reliable connectivity. Without this foundation in place, Fast IT won't get off the ground.
9. Cisco is leading the way
Of all the vendors out there, Cisco by far and away has the best grasp of Fast IT, what it means, and how to achieve it. Simply googling the term results in a cornucopia of Cisco resources and white papers, showing how elegantly they've interpreted the trend and prepared their own technological and procedural solutions to help further it. In fact, the good folks at Cisco are largely responsible for supplying the information that led to this article, and I thank them for their efforts to embrace this trend head-on.
10. It won't entirely replace core IT in every circumstance
Some elements of IT will never go away. Traditional delivery mechanisms for IT resources and services will remain, albeit with a smaller footprint and less staff. The term "two-track IT" is already being tossed around, and it refers to Core IT vs. Fast IT, each of which will work in parallel at times and at complete separate paces elsewhere. So, IT professionals need not fear another "Armageddon" type paradigm shift which will have them scrambling to reinvent their careers. Fast IT is simply about expanding capabilities.
Now that you know more about Fast IT, please consider taking our survey, "Adapt or die: Can your IT department survive the age of fast IT?" We'd love to hear what you've been working on, how your projects have fared, what's on your roadmap and how you are aligning your priorities to ever-changing business needs. Respondents will receive a free copy of the resulting research report.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.