Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chapter 5 - IT Infrastructure and Emerging Technologies

Information technology (IT) infrastructure is defined as the shared technology resources that provide the platform for the firm’s specific information system applications.  It includes the hardware, software applications, and services that are shared across the organization.   It provides the framework for serving customers, working with vendors, and overseeing internal business processes.

For over 50 years the IT infrastructure has evolved into what it is today.  The five eras of this evolution include the general-purpose mainframe and minicomputer era; the personal computer era; the client/server era; the enterprise computing era; and the cloud and mobile computing era.  Characteristics of one era may also be used in another era for other purposes.

The reasons for such change in the IT infrastructure is due to developments in technologies such as computer processing, memory chips, storage devices, telecommunications and networking hardware and software, and software design.  These developments have rapidly increased computing power while also reducing costs.  One technology driver of this change is Moore’s Law.  This is the assertion that the number of components of a chip doubles each year.  Another driver is the Law of Mass Digital Storage.  It provides that the cost of storing digital information is falling at an exponential rate.  Metcalf’s Law is a driver, which shows that a network’s value to participants, grows rapidly as the number of network members increases.  One other technology driver is the rapid decline in the costs of communication and the rapid growth in the size of the Internet.  Technology standards specify the compatibility of products and the ability to communicate in a network.

Seven major components make up the IT infrastructure, which must be coordinated to provide the firm with a coherent infrastructure.   These components include computer hardware platforms, operating system platforms, enterprise software applications, data management and storage, networking/telecommunications platforms, Internet platforms, and consulting and system integration services. 

Several hardware trends have changed how businesses organize their computing power.  One trend is an emerging mobile digital platform.  Mobile devices such as cell phones and smartphones have taken on many functions of handheld computers.  Soon these mobile devises will be the primary means of communication and accessing the Internet for businesses.  Another hardware trend is grid computing.  This involves connecting geographically remote computers into a single network to create a virtual supercomputer by combining the computational power of all computers on the grid.  The advantages of this trend are the cost savings, speed of computation, and agility.  A third hardware trend is virtualization.  This is the process of presenting a set of computing resources so that they can all be accessed in ways that are not restricted by physical configuration or geographic location.  It helps organizations increase equipment utilization rates by conserving data center space and energy usage and facilitates centralization and consolidation of hardware administration.  Cloud computing is another trend in which firms and individuals obtain computer processing, storage, software, and other services as a group of virtualized resources over a network, mainly the Internet.  It can be private or public and the cost to utilize is minimal.  Green computing is the practices and technologies for designing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of computers, servers, and associated devices (monitors, printers, storage devices, networking and communications systems) to minimize the impact of the environment.  Autonomic computing is developing systems that can configure themselves, optimize and tune themselves, heal themselves when broken, and protect themselves from outside intruders and self-destruction.  Another hardware trend is the use of more efficient and power-saving processors. 

Software trends have also changed how businesses organize their computing power.  One trend is open source software.  This is software produced by a community of thousands of programmers around the world and can modified by other users and redistributed.   Linux is probably the most well known open software and is embedded in cell phones, smartphones, netbooks, and consumer electronics.  Another trend is the software for the web.  Java and Ajax are the two most common.  Java is an operating system-independent, processor-independent, object-oriented programming language.  It can deliver only the software functionality needed for a particular task and can run on ay computer and operating system.  Ajax is a Web development technique for creating interactive Web applications that makes conversation with the server more seamless for the user.  A third trend is the use of web services and service-oriented architecture.  Web services are a set of loosely coupled software components that exchange information with each other using universal Web communication standards and languages.  They are able to exchange information between two different systems regardless of the languages and they can be used to build open standard Web-based applications that link systems of two different organizations.  A service-oriented architecture is a collection of Web services that are used to build a firm’s software system.  A fourth software trend is the external sources for software.  Three such sources include software packages from a commercial software vendor, outsourcing custom application development to an external vendor, and cloud-based software services and tools.  Mashups and apps are also a software trend that is used by individuals and businesses.  Mashups combine the capabilities of two or more online applications to create a kind of hybrid that provides more customer value than the original source along.  Apps are small pieces of software that run on the Internet, on the computer, or on a cell phone and are generally delivered over the Internet. 

Dealing with platform and infrastructure change, management and governance of the infrastructure, and making wise infrastructure investments are some of the challenged faces for creating and managing a coherent IT infrastructure.  A competitive forces model can be used as a guideline as to how much should be invested in the infrastructure and where to make strategic infrastructure investments.

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