CIOs have a tough job delivering an expanding range of services to ever more demanding customers and responding rapidly to requests.
The challenge is made much more demanding as most organisations are running a disparate array of systems from multiple vendors, with each typically supporting a single application.
When looking at the issues facing CIOs, it is important to distinguish exactly how the challenges are perceived and dealt with.
By this we mean explicitly separating out and recognising the root cause of underlying problems, rather than only noticing the symptoms these problems cause.
With this in mind, surveys carried out by Freeform Dynamics highlight a number of issues experienced keeping IT infrastructures operating to meet business needs.
The results consistently show that many of the visible pain points, such as juggling priorities, IT staff overstretch and keeping up with demands from users often reflect deeper fundamental issues in systems, especially around the lack of integration between different systems and especially in the tools used to administer them.
And on the people side, four out of five larger organisations have completely separate teams looking after server, storage and networking.
Vendors, sensing sales opportunities, have spent considerable efforts in recent years encouraging organisations to consolidate their servers and, more recently, their storage platforms, often making use of virtualisation tools.
Such programmes have delivered considerable benefits, especially in terms of resource utilisation and availability, with consequential cost savings, but in many instances have resulted in new virtualised server and storage siloes appearing, albeit ones larger in scale and now running multiple services.
But reports from organisations that have virtualised significant portions of their estates indicate that operational management remains a challenge, most notably because of the many tools that must be employed to keep systems running and the fact that many IT departments split responsibility between separate teams.
In fact the ability to manage large scale virtualised platforms is a significant challenge when using multiple tools to administer each facet of the stack in isolation.
Even worse, we know that many organisations find it very difficult to make a business case for investing in integrated IT management tools as few budget approvers are explicitly aware of the close linkage between business operations and effective IT managements.
To address these challenges, a number of vendors, such as Cisco, IBM, DELL, HP, Fujitsu and Oracle, have been pushing the concept of Unified Infrastructure.
This involves combining server, storage and networking resources, all pre-integrated into a single platform and surrounded by a management interface to make daily operational administration more straightforward.
In many respects these solutions have more than a passing resemblance to the original mainframe systems in that they can be administered as a single entity by teams responsible for the delivery of the entire service, not dependent on a server admin, a storage guru and a networking maestro.
To achieve this vision of Unified Infrastructure, many vendors have developed the datacentre-in-a-box concept, but are these platforms the answer to IT infrastructure challenges?
Such systems do offer many benefits, most notably the pre-integration of server, storage and networks thereby significantly limiting the amount of installation work required.