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Scalable Infrastructure for Digital Businesses

Scalable Infrastructure for Digital Businesses
by Sudeep Kanjilal on 10-02-2016 at 7:00 am

 Building Digital businesses is tough. The run-time changes rapidly (browser – apps – bots), and standards for the digital architecture/stack gets refined constantly. Pace of innovation is accelerating due to massive war-chest of the top digital players like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. For the Fortune 500 consumer-facing giants to catch-up, they have to upgrade their technology stack and incorporate new technologies, while living with their existing ‘legacy’ technologies. This is a tricky balancing act, as it is not just mashing up seemingly incompatible technologies – but really combining different set of capabilities that these technologies enable.

For example, how to you define your ‘security architecture’ for your PII (regulated) data, when you have multiple data warehouses, multiple data centers – all running on different generation of technologies. A typical Fortune 500 firm will have at least 4 version of infrastructure stack, with the oldest one typically running a technology stack no longer supported. Start-ups, of course, do not face this issue – they get to start with a clean slate. However, karma eventually catches up – once start-ups become successful and big, and start acquiring other companies, their technology stack eventually resembles a kitchen sink!

Strengthen the foundations
To address the inevitable technology debt, which deepened over the past 8 years due to the Great Recession induced cost cutting, smart Fortune 500 firms are starting from the basic – strengthening the foundation of the overall technology stack. They are focusing on core infrastructure. A correct choice, as a house is only as strong as its foundation.

Digital Businesses are inherently susceptible to a fly-wheel effect, which leads to rapid growth running into millions of MAUs if done right. One can imagine the gusher of data that this model will generate, the rapid (real-time) analytics and decision-making needed to finely calibrate user interaction and overall user experience – without even bringing in higher-order capabilities like machine learning. And none of these will scale on a complex mix old infrastructure elements spanning 4 generations.

So, smart firms are putting in governance policies for infrastructure refresh that emphasizes any new infrastructure build or refresh will follow the 3 steps:

[LIST=1]

  • Define the overall architecture that is scalable
  • Define the infrastructure in software instead of specialized hardware/appliances. Think stack – IaaS, PaaS and SaaS
  • Go Hybrid – explicitly define infrastructure that will ALWAYS have multiple generations of technologies, as that will always be the reality.

    Hybrid or Public
    The last point is critical, but cannot be taken in isolation. Too often I have witnessed decisions being taken at these Fortune 500 firms purely in binary terms – cloud vs data centers, public cloud vs private cloud vs hybrid cloud, etc. Its critical to take a look at the infrastructure not just in terms of technology choices within each layer of the stack (Win vs Linux for servers, Oracle vs SQL doe dB servers, etc.) but think in terms of overall service that this stack is enabling, and then define the architecture requirements.

    Example: for a large-scale consumer application of a typical bank and/or an insurance firm, their Big Data would runs on bare meta (dedicated server), customer backend on public cloud, web scale front end (or perhaps reverser proxy server) on public cloud – and security in all stack layers. To the end customer, all this is transparent – it just works, and scale infinitely.

    The ultimate aim: Speed up innovation – idea to production in 30 mins, push code to production 100 times a week. Only then you get a digital business!


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