Enterprise IT: The Final Frontier

When people use the term “Enterprise Information Technology”, what kind of environment are people really talking about? For me, this term refers to the facilitation and management of integrated corporate information by software and hardware for medium to large organizations. Enterprise IT differs from IT at smaller organizations in both scale and the requirement of a lot more management and automation tools. Tools that work quite well in Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) environments often do not scale for larger organizations, do not address the correct problem or cannot integrate with the kinds of systems common to enterprise IT structures.

This is not to imply that SOHO applications are inferior or less robust. Even if application costs were not an issue, there are many enterprise IT applications that are simply not appropriate for SOHO environments due to hardware requirements, installation complexity, administrative overhead or missing network dependencies (for instance, some applications may require SNMP-aware switches that are lacking in most SOHOs).

The key attributes of an enterprise IT solution are scalability and integration. Scalability is the process by which an application may be altered to handle increasing amounts of usage. Notice that I said “process”. Too many vendors tout scalability as a feature, which it is not. Application scale through many techniques, but all require the intervention of system administrators to implement. Google search engine, for instance, scales to millions of users searching billions of pages of content, but it requires thousands of commodity servers deployed in standard shipping containers distributed through the world. Without scalability, an application can meet the growing demands of the end-user.

Integration is the other distinguishing feature of IT software. Large IT systems must be able to exchange information with other IT systems in an automated way. For instance, a network management tool needs to be able to retrieve network statistics from smart switches and routers. SSLVPN routers need to be able to talk to a center Authentication and Authorization system, like Active Directory. Without integration, information gets repeated in individual applications. This creates the undesirable “siloization” of information that significately reduces the efficiency of IT departments and can even compromize security.

There are several components of enterprise IT that can be broadly categorized into the areas discussed in the next part of this essay, coming soon.