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The Grand Challenge: Simplifying IT to Unleash Innovation

How the cloud helps businesses spend less time worrying and more time creating

I don't listen to music before I buy it anymore. I don't need to - as long as I'm purchasing it from Amazon. Based on algorithms that crawl my purchasing history, the online retailer knows what I like as well as I do and, dare I say, better than my wife.

A company develops this intimate knowledge by using Big Data to improve the customer experience in an economical and adaptable way. Amazon has integrated this agility into every aspect of its business, from running its warehouses to its revolutionary ability to publish on demand.

Game-changing innovation happens when you simplify everyday processes. But managing a large, traditional application portfolio - however crucial it is to your business - disrupts innovation.

The cloud virtualizes your software, protecting you from the inefficiencies associated with IT. As a result, you spend less time and money introducing and maintaining applications and more resources innovating and advancing your business. Whether you implement a software-designed data center, a hybrid cloud approach or and end-user computing strategy, you're taking the burden off of your own team and into the virtual world.

Conventional application integration is exhausting. Each has to be written, architected and incorporated into the existing structure. Then it must be tested, and tested again. Then you need to install, monitor and archive it, and manage and restore the archives to make sure they work. The whole thing gets complicated fast, so you need specialists who understand the management processes.

Multiply these processes by the thousands - on the high end, healthcare companies typically use 10,000 applications - and it's no wonder IT has a reputation for slowing down business.

More than 80 percent of traditional IT costs are driven by the people and processes involved in managing it. The cloud flips the equation. Eighty to eighty-five percent of the costs instead go toward infrastructure because the cloud automates everything. You're untethering the applications from the computers on which they run.

It's comparable to the impact standardized shipping containers had on modern trade. Every port could work with the same containers, streamlining the process as freighters received and delivered goods across the globe.

The cloud - the virtualized data center - does the same thing with applications. It puts collections of apps in standardized containers, complete with the machines and storage necessary to run them, and automates the management so you're not worrying about things breaking or delivering an unexpected result. Instead of automating thousands of apps individually, you handle entire containers all at once. You can seamlessly move the containers from a damaged machine to a working one. And business goes on.

The ramifications are fundamentally transformative. Innovation speeds up when businesses function unencumbered by the disruptions of traditional IT. Acquiring new technology is no longer a barrier because you're not devoting time to the cycle of writing, architecting, integrating, testing, installing, monitoring, archiving and restoring. You're just creating.

Today you can have a good idea, register as a corporation, get applications, manufacture products and launch an enterprise without leaving your home. The cloud provides global access to the IT necessary to build a business. It's faster, cheaper and lower risk - the three ingredients that propel innovation.

Consider the rise of Netflix. Blockbuster dominated the movie rental business for two decades, making it simple for customers to watch films in their home almost any time they wanted - as long as they were willing to trek to the store.

Netflix took the DVD rental business online and slashed the bottom out of Blockbuster's model. Movies came directly to customers' homes with a reasonably priced monthly subscription and no threat of late fees. As a result, Blockbuster announced last fall it would be shuttering all but 50 franchised stores in the U.S.

But Netflix didn't rest on its laurels. It recognized the threat of iTunes' pioneering streaming business. Netflix bifurcated its model, maintaining its mail-order DVD option while venturing into streaming. It used data gleaned from customers' viewing habits to create original content that aligns with not just what they watch but how they watch. Data revealed viewers liked streaming multiple episodes of TV shows in marathon sessions, prompting Netflix to release in one day entire seasons of dramas such as House of Cards.

This is what the cloud enables. Companies can use technology as a weapon of mass disruption. If you don't take advantage of it, you're at risk of not being able to grow and stay competitive. Rather than let technology happen to you, use it to become the agent of change.

How do you do that?

Software-defined data centers let customers quickly, safely and inexpensively deliver the right applications. A hybrid cloud strategy offers a choice between running applications in a software-defined data center, within the public cloud or another proprietary cloud. And an end-user computing strategy creates a safe, secure and compliant environment for application consumption.

Simplify IT, and you'll unleash innovation.

More Stories By Paul Strong

Paul Strong is VP, Office of the CTO, at VMware, where he helps guide architecture strategy and R&D innovation programs.

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