|Topic:||Software – changing ICT infrastructure models|
|Title:||CEO and Co-founder|
Sridhar Vembu is the CEO and co-founder of AdventNet, a network and systems management software provider. ÀdventNet is one of the largest software product companies in India. Prior to AdventNet, Mr Vembu worked as a wireless systems engineer for Qualcomm, focusing on physical layer design for CDMA. Sridhar Vembu obtained his B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University.
The distortions in India’s growing, but still emerging, IT sector are forcing it to adopt new models. The difficulty and cost of obtaining and maintaining high-level IT staff has fostered the growth of software-as-a-service approaches, and the outsourcing of infrastructure management. The rise of software as a service, together with the parallel rise of mobile telephony and the growth of the mobile worker phenomenon might well herald the re-making of the ICT sector as we know it.
Traditional Indian organizations made little or no investment in IT, due to the labour-intensive nature of their operations, and the high opportunity cost of capital investment compared to deploying more labour. The primary initial driver for IT in India was the outsourcing boom in the West. Driven by the need to attain global competitiveness, Indian IT outsourcing companies have embraced the need for state-of-the-art IT infrastructure as essential to their business. Starting from the export-oriented outsourcing segment, the IT revolution is now spreading to organizations in other segments of the economy, both in the private and public sectors. This is coinciding with the mobile revolution, which has swept India in the past five years. By 2006, practically every person in the formal economy has an SMS enabled mobile phone, and a lot of mobile usage is work related. Indian organizations are extremely price sensitive in their IT procurement, because of the relatively low gross-margin-per-employee they have in their core businesses. The mobile revolution took off only when prices were brought down; Indian mobile prices are among the lowest in the world today. Broader IT adoption is likely to follow the same pattern, with plummeting costs driving mass adoption. From the perspective of enterprise IT, both infrastructure costs and ongoing management costs have to be reduced substantially. Business costs are still high, leading to conservatism on the part of the buying organizations. As an example, while laptops have overtaken desktops in the West, in India, organizations still have not made that transition. Enterprise IT in India also has to grapple with another phenomenon; the highly profitable, export-oriented IT outsourcing industry is soaking up India’s available talent pool in order to serve western clients. As a consequence, the traditional Indian organizations are challenged to find the sort of people they need to keep their IT infrastructure running. They cannot compete with export-earnings-powered outsourcing companies in terms of pay and perks. Due to the extreme talent shortage facing them, they are forced to come up with creative ways to manage their growing IT infrastructure. In practice, Indian organizations are willing to consider infrastructure management outsourcing earlier in the cycle than western companies. Systems integrators, and resellers who sell and service equipment and software, are often asked to take care of managing the newly installed infrastructure on an ongoing basis. Remote and web-based enterprise management Because of the talent shortage and the cost, enterprise IT management in India is increasingly evolving into an externally provided service rather than an internally staffed operation using purchased and internally implemented software. It is imperative that IT management vendors keep this in mind. What are the implications of this? First and foremost, enterprise management has to work well over the web. The outsourced management service provider will host the management software, and install lightweight agents or probes behind the firewall of the organization the networks of which they are managing. The preferred architecture is to have the agents communicating with an external management service through web protocols and document formats (http/https, XML) and the console itself should work over a simple browser. Remote troubleshooting and automation tools are essential, so as to reduce the number of visits by the external service provider. Second, India has far more SMS usage than email due to the 10-to-1 ratio of mobiles to PCs. This means SMS-based alerts and mobile access to management information is vital. Existing enterprise management frameworks are too costly and require too much customization, particularly from the perspective of the price-sensitive Indian customer. After all, management costs should bear some proportion to the cost of the infrastructure it is managing; as those costs come down dramatically, management costs should fall as well. Towards a new mobile driven thin-client paradigm Looking to the medium to long term, infrastructure manageability is becoming a huge issue for IT organizations world-wide. The traditional fat-client paradigm, with all the complexity it brings in terms of security and management, not to mention the associated high costs per employee, is becoming progressively ill-suited to the needs of newly IT-enabled organizations in India. The treadmill of patching, upgrading, protecting from viruses and other malware begs the question: is there a better way? Thin client web computing offers hope. As bandwidth costs plummet, software as a service – instead of software as a packaged or custom-made product – is becoming more viable as the preferred software delivery mechanism. It is particularly relevant in a greenfield market India, where the first computing experience for many people is likely to be Internet-based computing. Software as a service also dovetails nicely with the mobile revolution. In many respects, the ideal thin client is the mobile phone, with a docking capability so that it can connect to an external LCD display and keyboard. The stateless display device replaces the traditional desktop, and could become ubiquitous due to the falling cost of displays. The mobile device with WiFi and 3G data capabilities, sporting a state-of-the-art web browser, might well become the preferred delivery medium for software as a service. In that world, the enterprise management challenge moves from desktop management to data centre management. Storage moves to the network, and managing user’s data so as to offer very high service levels becomes imperative. Managing massive pools of storage, attached to vast server farms that can serve millions of users, becomes the central IT management challenge. One example of how Internet-based software impacts the traditional world of IT is the popularity of low cost servers in Internet data centres, as opposed to massive ‘big-iron’ servers common within enterprises. Internet applications are written to run in a cluster of low-cost servers, while traditional IT applications need big-iron. So what will be important in future is the efficient, cost effective management of clusters of cheap servers and cheap storage. Traditional big-iron practices, such as back-up and recovery, will give way to grid computing. Another major consequence of the thin-client model is the end-user expectations of an always-on service. In the Internet world, there is no downtime. Traditional maintenance windows common in IT best practices have to be completely rethought. Opportunities for mobile service providers Mobile service providers and mobile equipment vendors should embrace the software-as-a-service delivery paradigm. It enhances the value of their offerings to businesses and consumers, and it opens to door to new revenue opportunities. The SaaS, software-as-a-service, revolution, which offers dramatic cost savings in software, could end up riding the mobile wave. This revolution could end up remaking the IT industry as we know it.