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Innovate or Die: The Danger of Ignoring Your Aging Infrastructure

21 Oct 2014
Aging Infrastructure

BY NEAL POLLACK

It’s a common theme across all industries: Old systems die hard. Every time a new technology comes along boasting features like scalability or elastic instincts, it gets crushed by arcane security concerns or used-­up back ends that are strung together by the digital equivalent of duct tape. In company after company, the CTO is at war with the CIO, who doesn’t communicate with the CMO, causing a back-end infrastructure pile up. For many companies, it’s innovate or die. Even established giants like Microsoft, Oracle and Dell are wisely scrambling to modernize their stacks, because they know kicking that can down the road will cause an even bigger world of problems.

However, while complex, deciding to innovate tech stacks isn’t as expensive and painful as many would think. “When Companies  go to implement something new for employees or consumers, they have this weird idea that they have to pull old data into newer things,” says Marc Boudria, lead solutions engineer for Chaotic Moon. “But you can innovate and create an idea, work out the bugs, work through that stuff, and create logical patches for the back-end infrastructure based on a future-first thought process, and being pre-emptive about it is a lot less costly than having to react to failures.” The tricky part is integrating the backend without the consumer ever knowing. No one wants to see the digital sausage being made. Companies just need to make it happen more efficiently.

STACKING UP

Smart companies like Illinois-based John Deere also understand the deeper issues and are also investing in modernizing their stacks – while being especially careful with legacy data. Payroll and HR applications aren’t getting touched—that’s a rabbit hole too deep to penetrate—but other business-related information involving products and services is finally entering the present century for safety, speed and, in many cases, savings on technology services. “Granted, they’re spending money now,” Boudria says, “but the long-term is that they’re not paying IBM or Oracle money for storing data that they don’t need. Enterprise is ill-served by metadata. It breaks down, disappears, can’t be found, can’t logically have connections made. It had to be that way 20 years ago, but it doesn’t have to be that way anymore.”

Successful enterprises need to expose their services in a way that at least resembles open sourcing. “The companies that are moving forward are not being exclusive and proprietary,” says Boudria. “Intel is exclusive and proprietary. The opposite side of that note is A&B, which wants to create unified ways and unified platforms to talk to GPUs. They’d be happy to have their clients talk to each other.”

VENDER SAVINGS

Companies with old infrastructures are paying huge workforces just to patch and maintain them. Everything is mission-critical, all the time. It’s hard to innovate when you’re stuck in an IT slog. Developers find themselves forced into work-arounds for ancient stacks, using countless add-ons and connectors—and even then the systems crash half the time. Having 18 different versions of Java on your servers, all of them proprietary, doesn’t make for an efficient operation. It’s the digital equivalent of a rotting foundation. “Twenty years ago, these service layers may have made sense,” say Boudria, “but now so many have gotten slow and  stagnant that they can’t be ignored any longer. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, they pull us in after something big has is failing or has failed. That’s the danger.”

THE PRESCRIPTION

Fortunately, companies can make their platforms more agnostic to code bases by setting them up to use modern service layers more effectively. In other words, if they’re open and flexible to change, it can be possible. They don’t have to be intimidated by Microsoft-run databases from 1997.

HERE’S HOW COMPANIES CAN GET OUT OF THE IT SWAMP:

1. Get all the company stakeholders to understand the role of a back end: what it does and how it functions.

2. Have a forward-­thinking conversation with the creative side of things, an IT developer and also a business analyst. Find out what every aspect of your company’s needs, and integrate those needs accordingly.

3. Determine service offerings and demographics. Come up with a list of what needs to be built.

In other words, content should determine infrastructure, not the other way around. “We’re not starting at the back end and trying to work out,” Boudria says. “We’re starting at the experience end and working backward.” By continually trying to integrate and patch old systems, companies are stifling the tech innovation they need to thrive and compete— but they can change. All they need is an open-minded attitude and the right tech partners. The solutions are available, if companies just reach for them. The choice to innovate or die is completely up to a company in the throes of the technological divide, but the clock is ticking.

Chaos Theory is a Chaotic Moon Studios publication. We are a creative technology studio in Austin, TX obsessed with creating innovative user-centered design and developing intelligent custom software for the world’s biggest and best brands. To engage us about a potential project, send an email to hello@chaoticmoon.com