Decentralization Vs. Centralization: The Epic Digital Leader Struggle

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For a good part of the last century, centralization was an essential strategy for IT infrastructure development.

It made economic and IT management sense. While giving the IT team control and a single view of operations, it streamlined costs.

Multi-cloud strategies and the need for workload portability challenged this idea.

Easy access to cloud services and architectures led to fragmentation. And for various practical reasons — from redundancy and compliance to local service availability and data sovereignty — companies embraced hybrid and multi-cloud strategies. And COVID-19 made workload portability a business necessity.

Gartner predicted that by 2021, 75% of mid-size and large enterprises would adopt a multi-cloud or hybrid IT strategy. And the price for this adoption: decentralization.

“Technologies such as IoT, analytics, Big Data coupled with digital industry solutions enable decentralization,” said Tan Mui Cheng, head of cloud practice at Fujitsu Asia.

The problem with decentralization is that cloud integration becomes a considerable challenge.

“The decentralized nature of the cloud becomes a challenge when you need to integrate applications, for example, to optimize business processes or gain real-time access to data across various systems and providers,” said Kevin Matheny, senior director analyst at Gartner in the report. 

It is the scenario that a major security company with over 345,000 employees across 58 markets faced with its multi-cloud approach. The company’s IT landscape was initially fragmented and decentralized, causing high costs and a lack of business agility to respond to market changes.

It is not just about infrastructure fragmentation, either. Adrian Hia, country manager for Singapore at VMware, noted that applications and user experience also become affected.    

Designed for decentralization

Solution providers are responding to managing decentralization. They are tackling the challenges by offering solutions that are ready for multi-cloud environments. The Multi-Cloud Managed Services from Fujitsu is a good example.

It is a connected platform that serves as the foundation for these digital solutions. It is powered by VMware solutions, such as HCX and NSX, with VMware Solutions on Amazon Web Services (AWS), a mix of cloud and on-premise technologies designed to meet complex hybrid environments and the ability to work with different data platforms, including structured, semi-structured to unstructured. 

VMware also tackles each stage of decentralization. For infrastructure, VMware Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) helped companies decentralize their infrastructure and allowed workloads to exist in different environments. This, said VMware’s Hia, provides resiliency across sites while creating a unified and consistent infrastructure and operations across the various data centers and edge locations. 

The joint approach helped credit management company Lowell to avoid the nightmare scenario of having to manage a “patchwork quilt of IT across nine different countries that would lead to interoperability challenges and bottlenecks,” said a case study report. 

 “Fujitsu particularly impressed us by really getting to grips with our business and highlighting the opportunity for Lowell to rethink our operating model to take advantage of our increasing scale. That approach enabled Fujitsu to propose a solution that not only drives scale efficiencies for Lowell but also applies innovative robotic and AI technologies to generate even greater savings, flexibility, and agility,” said Gary Edwards, group chief information officer at Lowell.

For the securities company mentioned earlier, the Fujitsu-VMware partnership helped it modernize its decentralized IT infrastructure, extend its highly automated, responsive, and intelligent security services, and become a leading competitor.

Weighing the decentralization benefits

Should companies choose to centralize or remain decentralized? There is no single answer. It largely depends on how companies need to operate and the current situation. And as the COVID-19 showed, the conditions can change rapidly.

“Centralized architectures can be made scalable only if there is a huge capacity being implemented to meet business demand, and if it is planned in advance. If a business is dynamic, the agility will be limited. Companies will have to keep in mind the related cost implications as well, especially in today’s context where one does not want to be in the situation to be locked in by investment,” said Fujitsu’s Tan.

VMware’s Hia argued that a decentralized architecture has its advantages in being agile and resilient, “but we understand that not every business has the capability to transform its architecture overnight.” “With VMware Cloud, we can help businesses to scale and transform their architecture in a matter of days, harnessing the reach of the major cloud providers, providing a consistent software-defined infrastructure.”

COVID-19 also puts the focus on workload portability and cloud-based resilience. Fujitsu’s Tan noted that both are difficult to achieve.

 “Today, there are still relatively few properly designed, implemented, and tested workload portability and cloud resiliency solutions. Achieving cloud resiliency requires a hands-on approach where one designs, implements, and maintains the solution to manage its complexity,” Tan said. 

Tan noted that workload portability is centered around data and application component synchronization across different platforms. The complexities surrounding application integration for various cloud environments make it challenging to implement workload portability and require strong integration skills and technologies such as data integration, APIs, and interfaces.

 “While reliability is essential for maintaining performance, security plays a crucial role in maintaining resilience across platforms, such as securing the data when moving data and configurations between SaaS. Practically, it is challenging to take into due consideration cost, scalability, control, performance, security, and governance, all at the same time,” she added.

It is one reason why solutions like VMware SDDC are getting popular for workload portability across multiple cloud environments.

VMware Tanzu’s portfolio goes further by allowing customers to build microservices to decouple from monolithic legacy applications for better resiliency and velocity on application services. VMware WorkspaceOne and Horizon decouples the user’s data, applications, and device management to enhance how IT manages the way users access the resources and provide both security and a better user experience.

“Traditionally, enabling workload portability across different cloud environments can take tremendous effort, time, and money to either reimage, redeploy, or refactor the application to suit the environment. However, VMware SDDC’s and Tanzu’s portfolios enable workload portability across the multi-cloud environment with a few clicks,” said VMware’s Hia.

VMware SDDC creates a consistent infrastructure across the multi-clouds, helping customers save time, effort, and money to move their workloads to an environment that best suits their preferences. VMware will handle the infrastructure aspect so that businesses can focus on delivering new services to the market. 

“In a decentralized architecture, workloads, and service across multiple environments need to be resilient and agile. It is also crucial to have a consistent infrastructure and operations to ensure that the tools can be used across different environments. Connecting them with a virtual cloud network can ensure the networking and security characteristics are consistent across the environments,” Hia advised.    

The future is about choice

It is difficult to predict the future needs for infrastructure. What is more important is having the right partners to support the company’s journey and having the choice to shift.

It was one critical piece of advice that Gartner’s Matheny mentioned in his report. He noted that companies tackling decentralization would need the right integration platform software, an integration platform as a service (iPaaS), robust SaaS vendor tooling, the ability to develop custom code, and explore function platform as a service (fPaaS). 

 “There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Companies will need to consider what is important to them and factors such as their corporate environment, strategic priorities, and market dynamics. For example, decentralization will make more sense to a company that prioritizes responsiveness. If a company’s business operations require more focus on reliability and compliance, a centralized strategy will be more appropriate,” said Fujitsu’s Tan.

It comes down to business strategy and vision. “Understanding the business strategy and vision is important to determine if the business should centralize or decentralize,” said VMware’s Hia.

Future-proofing is equally vital, regardless of whether the company wants to centralize or decentralize. Then when the business environment alters, a software-driven architecture can allow “the shift of strategy due to any reason, for example, COVID-19,” Hia added.

This article is part of a CDOTrends eGuide. You can download the entire copy here

Image credit: iStockphoto/Non-Exclusive