Enterprise Architecture: From the Many, One?

Arthur Cole
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Top 10 Benefits of Virtualization

Virtualization has taken a firm hold at most enterprises these days, but the fact is we've only just begun to unleash the true potential of the technology.

With all this talk about the cloud, virtualization and other changes to enterprise infrastructure, it's easy to forget that the point to all this is to build better enterprise architectures.

Architecture is one of those difficult-to-define concepts that everyone agrees all data centers should have, although there is little concurrence as to how it should be done. A properly designed architecture will effectively implement business strategies into actionable processes, streamlining operations, lowering costs and boosting productivity. Unfortunately, many organizations suffer from too many disparate architectures or a poorly defined overarching system that fails to accommodate critical organizational needs.

To be sure, there is a plethora of vendor-specific architectures designed to offer a quick and easy integrated environment. With its Virtual Network Architecture, Dell is the latest to join Cisco, HP and others with a platform aimed at broad automation and orchestration of virtual applications across the data center. The system utilizes the Z9000 switch and other technologies from Force10 Networks to enable virtual machines to carry their own virtual LAN connectivity wherever they go, providing a high degree of portability across enterprise resources.

However, the jury is still out when it comes to single-vendor platforms. Most enterprises are loathe to place all their digital eggs in a single vendor basket and would rather rely on the mix-and-match approach that served them so well in the bricks-and-mortar past.

Still, some are questioning whether enterprises can effectively manage the transition to virtual and cloud operations without a cohesive architecture. According to IBM's Len Fehskens, change will come no matter what architecture(s) are in place, just as it always has, but a solid foundation is undoubtedly helpful in times of great uncertainty. Still, without broader agreement as to exactly what enterprise architecture is, it will be hard to prevent architectural concepts and transformation processes from overlapping.

The goal for most enterprises, then, should be to unify the many disparate architectures that have arisen over the years into a more cohesive whole. This will be just as difficult as it sounds, given that many business units employ the systems and processes that work best for them, not necessarily the rest of the team. There is also the fact that today's architectures must be able to adapt to expanding universe of distributed infrastructure, mobile data platforms and disparate application environments.

For those who have taken steps in the direction of architectural unity, one of the chief benefits is the greater control it affords over the often rogue operations that have a habit of becoming quasi IT environments in their own right, according to CIO.com's Rajan Chandras. While these environments can sometimes be beneficial to the organization, more often they interfere with procurement and vendor relationships, compliance, support and data and platform optimization.

Like pornography, then, enterprise architecture is difficult to define, but we know it when we see it. As organizations increase their reliance on cloud computing and dynamic data infrastructure, the potential is there for enterprises to deploy additional architectures suited to the new paradigm. The main question for CIOs, then, is whether they can live with such diversity, or should they take steps to unify their operations before cloud computing begins in earnest.

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