IT infrastructure - Wash your hands of it

At a time when companies are talking about the need to cost effectivelymanage their increasing complex IT infrastructure, here's another way oflooking at it - quit worrying about it and pass the worry to someone else.

At a time when companies are talking about the need to cost effectively manage their increasing complex IT infrastructure, here's another way of looking at it - quit worrying about it and pass the worry to someone else.

Let's face it, a robust infrastructure can be extremely expensive and complex. And while businesses usually understand their own organisation and market better than any consultant, they often lack the internal expertise, dedicated resources and network access to plan and manage their own IT infrastructure successfully.

Now, outsourcing a company's IT infrastructure at a time when it is an increasingly important part of the business process is not something to be entered into lightly. An "end-to-end" IT infrastructure is no longer the desktops at one end and the servers at the other -- all within the same enterprise. It is now an critical lifeline that stretches from that supplier you have in Singapore to your corporate headquarters in New York to the customer in Beijing.

The implications? The impact of any infrastructural failure will cause much wider-ranging damage than ever before. First thing to note is - there is no one solution. Very much will depend on the company itself and its organisation priorities, availability of in-house skills and long-term business plans.

A study by International Data Corporation (IDC) provided some insight on which companies did what. For example, those organisations who chose to host internally were found to have a simplified structure and linear, one-way processes, with predefined interactions and little or no ambiguity. Such companies experience slow but controlled business growth. Their products or services are easily understood.

On the other hand, many of the companies who chose to outsource were usually more dynamic, often operating in marketplaces that are highly competitive, extensive, where growth could rise or drop dramatically. They have intuitive interactions with user-driven dialogues, and market both simple and complex products and services. As a result, they prefer to focus on their core business rather than dedicating substantial personnel, resources and activities to managing their IT requirements. Assuming a decision has been taken to outsource IT infrastructure management, finding the right hosting service provider can be just as daunting a task. This arises not from a lack of choice, but because there are too many choices.

However, the choice of service providers is likely to narrow as Darwin's law of "survival of the fittest" applies here as anywhere else. Forrester predicts that a number of outside hosting providers will abandon the business or focus on a narrower specialty, leaving infrastructure, server farms and data centres for those better equipped to address those challenges. Conversely, some of the most committed and capable outside hosting providers will make their services even more comprehensive and inclusive - in others words, offer an end-to-end solution.

It is also important to ensure a good match between the company's requirements and the services the vendor can provide. For a long and happy partnership, go through the following exercise. • Self-evaluation--Determine user's IT/Internet protocol skills, integration requirements and e-commerce urgency.

• Good matchups--Once the company's requirements are known, match requirements to the vendor's skills and personality.

• Realistic reviews--Perform due diligence, including visiting the vendor's data centre or server farm.

• Hands-on management--Give the vendors the latitude to do their job but stay actively involved. Can companies afford to wash their hands off their own IT infrastructure?

Yes, they can.

The multi-faceted discipline of managing IT infrastructure is complex, resource-intensive, specialised, and dynamic. More and more companies will come to the conclusion that their senior management's time is better spent growing their own business and leaving infrastructure management to the experts. This in turn will provide service providers with the economies of scale they need to provide higher levels of service at lower costs to the customer.