You don't know SMAC

Drew Amorosi seeks out big trends needing a catchy acronym

19 January 2015 by Drew Amorosi - Datacenter Dynamics

You don't know SMAC
Theresa Payton, taking questions at NCSU

Does your data center run SMAC? No, we are not talking about some street slang for illegal narcotics. This SMAC is far more clever, and places in one word some of the most impactful IT trends of the last several years. No longer will marketers, salespeople, or interested customers need to speak of Social, Mobility, Analytics, and Cloud. Instead they can just lay the SMAC-down, and underscore the transformative trends shaping IT and its effect on businesses.

SMAC is about innovation, as each component of the acronym highlights IT trends that have dramatically changed the behavior of consumers and businesses alike. How a business approaches its SMAC strategy depends on what services it provides, and the infrastructure that accompanies it.

Intelligent Risk
Innovation and risk always move in lockstep; you can’t have one without the other. In the corporate setting, CIOs often face difficult choices about where to spend IT budgets. IT spending on different components of SMAC, or spending that changes your infrastructure to support these changes, can help businesses spur innovation. CIO’s, however, oftentimes are hamstrung by the concerns of board members and upper management.

“Most CIOs have limited budgets for innovation-related activities and report that risk aversion among other board members constrains them from making riskier IT investments”, wrote Deloitte in summarizing the findings of its “CIO Survey 2014.”

Thirty-eight percent of the respondents said that business leaders’ attitude toward risk was the primary obstacle stopping them from making riskier IT investments.

Furthermore, the CIOs polled noted that only 22 percent of their budgets were allocated toward growth investments that could lead to innovation within their business. If given free reign to invest as they see fit, this sample of CIOs would explore components of SMAC—primary among these being analytics—which could foster business growth (see graphic).

“CIOs are willing to take intelligent risks with IT investments, but this attitude does not appear to match with their current portfolio of projects”, Deloitte noted in its report. The consultancy concluded its analysis with a stern call to action: “Now is the time for CIOs to choose whether to remain custodians of core IT systems or become drivers of growth through technological innovation.”

According to Theresa Payton, former White House CIO, “Each element of SMAC will and is having an impact on corporate data centers.” Currently the CEO of Fortalice LLC, an IT and risk management consultancy, Payton says that the increasingly global and mobile nature of business increases their dependency on cloud-based services. “Cloud computing, apps, and services are drastically changing the functions, operations, and daily maintenance of a data center,” she observes, adding that cloud services are easing the overall load on each company’s data centers.

“There is less daily operations and maintenance required when using a valid cloud provider or infrastructure provider”, Payton tells DayacenterDynamics. “While there is risk in outsourcing these functions, transforming your data center into a data analytics center can offer a lot to a business strategy.”

What has Payton concerned is that as SMAC becomes the preferred IT model, organizations may neglect the need to protect their most critical assets. She references the ongoing “feeding frenzy for data” that SMAC-based strategies help organizations collect on an unprecedented scale. “But the more you store and keep”, she warns, “the larger the attack surface.  Each company must think through their strategic design of SMAC and ask: do we have full line of sight on all of our critical data?”

The SMAC Stack
So, you are likely asking, how does SMAC work? First and most important, as Payton advised, is cloud-based technology.

A good example is Google Apps for Business, which leverages the company’s cloud-based offerings on an enterprise level. It incorporates aspects of social media, big data analytics, and allows users the flexibility to access these applications from numerous devices. It makes access to services easier for users and enhances the increased productivity that can promote greater innovation for businesses. All the while it eases the burden on businesses themselves and their data center operations.

Payton calls SMAC the next, or 5th wave of IT, as businesses move from the Internet Age and into the SMAC Era. A recent report from Capgemini Consulting agrees with this assessment. It calls cloud-based technology the “linchpin of the SMAC stack” and the “new foundation of the IT ecosystem.”

“The next wave of IT can be found in Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud (SMAC) delivered as a holistic solution known as the SMAC stack”, the company wrote in a recent white paper on accelerating IT transformation. It predicts that SMAC technologies, for decades to come, “will remain the driving force of enterprise-level IT” by breaking down geographical barriers, reducing costs, and enhancing business operations. Because the cycles of innovation are rapidly increasing, the consultancy predicts businesses that cling to legacy IT models will be unable to compete in the marketplace.

Due Diligence
If models like the SMAC stack are indeed the future of IT, then organizations navigating this transformation will need to engage in greater scrutiny of potential vendors – whether it be infrastructure, platforms, or applications-as-a-service. Cloud-based services are not a one-size-fits-all solution, and organizations will need to scrutinize their needs and how these stack up against potential cloud vendors.

“Any time you outsource a part of your infrastructure you need to perform due diligence in evaluating a potential vendor partner”, says Peter Wood, CEO of First Base Technologies, a UK-based IT and security consulting firm. Wood points to the various cloud models, including public, private, and hybrid. Governments and the financial services vertical, for example, will likely need to opt for the private cloud model, he maintains, due to legal and information security concerns.

Based on his recent consulting work, Wood makes an interesting observation about the effect the SMAC trends have had on IT infrastructure on the enterprise level.
“It’s becoming quite difficult to say what is and what isn’t a data center, and who owns it”, he tells FOCUS. He has one client – a high-end retailer – that has nearly completed a shift to completely off-premise IT. The client, Wood adds, is very forward thinking and mobile friendly. The end result, however, is that the client now has an extremely complex, and externally sourced IT infrastructure. It’s an example of the ownership issue Wood previously referenced.

“SMAC is going to enable us to transform our IT infrastructure and IT organizations”, Payton predicts, but she also highlights the potential pitfalls of the lack of clear ownership issue raised by Wood. She acknowledges the increasing popularity of “infrastructure as a service”, but with one vendor as the cloud provider, and perhaps another providing a collaborative platform, for example, then it becomes extremely difficult to discern who owns what.

A problem solved
The problem, Payton maintains, is not exclusive to smaller companies or start-ups that outsource nearly their entire IT infrastructure. Larger companies are not immune to the issue, she asserts, as “there is a lack of clarity over IT ownership when it comes to SMAC.”

Payton concludes with some words of caution for companies seeking to leverage the innovative capabilities within the SMAC stack. “They must understand the rights, controls, and protection services with each vendor”, she advises. “We have businesses with multiple service providers – and SMAC is continuing this trend.  Understand who you are using and working with to enable your business, and set up the appropriate security controls, including legal contracts in the event of a breach, so all parties understand their roles and responsibilities.”


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