Gartner Data Center Conference: Security, data management, company culture reigning themes

As with last year’s Gartner Data Center Conference, this year’s event left me both encouraged and concerned about the evolving role of IT and its future in providing the critical infrastructure needed to run today’s businesses. Gartner did a nice job of weaving a couple key themes through the conference, the biggest and most blatant being their concept of bimodal IT – the idea that IT has to run the core business in a predictable and reliable way, while at the same time exploring new opportunities to support an evolving, increasingly digital business. While not all the attendees I spoke with had fully aligned themselves to this vision yet, I believe the core principles are sound and reflect the difficult challenge IT has today.

It’s not my data center

From the start of the conference, one of the clear themes I heard was the need for IT to focus more and more on business applications and outcomes first, rather than infrastructure. Dave Cappuccio, Gartner vice president, distinguished analyst and chief of research for infrastructure teams, summed it up simply in a quote he recently heard from a client when asking about their data center. The chief information officer (CIO) said, “It’s not about my data center – it’s about delivering compute resources to the business in the best way possible.”

This theme of supporting business and not focusing first on infrastructure choices was reiterated in several presentations. Thomas Bittman from Gartner said, “Cloud is not a strategy; it is a tactic to deliver services the enterprise needs.” In a similar vein, Gartner’s George Weiss encouraged the attendees to consider the needs and desired outcomes before jumping on the hyperconvergence bandwagon. And Gartner vice president distinguished security analyst Neil MacDonald noted that “software-defined” is a misnomer, saying it should be “outcome-defined,” as the infrastructure style – with both hardware and software – doesn’t matter as much as the outcomes you deliver.

It’s not about the data, it is what you do with it

There were several excellent guest speakers at this year’s conference, including Stephen Dubner, best-selling author of “Freakonomics.” In a wide ranging and amusing discussion, Dubner continually reiterated the need to gather and dig into data, and truly understand it. “Data can tell you what is going on, but figuring out why can be really hard,” he said. Conference co-chair Mike Chuba reiterated this in his keynote address about the 2016 CIO agenda, stating that “It’s not about the data – it is what you do with it.” This theme of better data management, harvesting and usage was common across several presentations.

Bigger risks are coming

With the opportunity to use data in more effective ways comes the risk of data misuse or theft. Gartner Managing Vice President Ray Paquet cited research showing that two thirds of CEOs think risk management is falling behind, and three quarters see new risks on the horizon. Building on this theme, Michael Suby of Frost & Sullivan gave an excellent presentation on the state of data protection. Suby discussed rising external threats, such as malware, and shared sobering statistics on the very real insider thread. He also noted that as companies contemplate a move to the cloud, 90 percent of them have security concerns, with further research showing that sensitive data is escaping with cloud applications.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Woven throughout the technical and infrastructure focused presentations, was a final key theme: culture really matters. Guest speaker Patrick Lencioni, best-selling author of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable,” stated that there are two key requirements for success of any organization: being smart and healthy. Simply being smart is not enough. Lencioni went on to reiterate critical organizational disciplines and common dysfunctions of teams. Dubner picked up on this as well, noting that changing human behavior can be really hard – especially if the leadership doesn’t model and lead the way.

Overall, it was another excellent conference full of great updates and insights on the state of IT, the challenges that lie ahead, and actionable steps organizations can take to prepare and lead their organizations successfully.

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Jeff Boehm

Jeff Boehm

Jeff Boehm was the vice president of marketing at DataGravity for 2 years. Jeff brought more than 20 years of experience with a rare combination of marketing skills, organizational leadership and technical background to DataGravity, having shaped the BI and search markets working for industry pioneers and disrupters.