Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Addressing Data Center Complexity

If you have been following my work, you know how I feel about complexity. Complexity is the enemy. I have written a lot about how complexity causes software cost overruns, late deliveries, and poor business alignment.

In this blog, I decided to look at complexity from another perspective: the data center. This is the perspective of those that must support all of those complex systems the software group has managed to deliver.

The problem with complexity is that it magnifies as you move down the food chain. This is bad news for those at the bottom of the food chain, the data center.

Straightforward business processes become complex software systems. Complex software systems require very complex data stores. Very complex data stores run on extremely complex data centers. These extremely complex data centers are expensive to manage, run, and secure.

The numerous problems that complexity creates for data centers were highlighted in a recent survey by Symantec called State of the Data Center; Global Results [1]. The results of this survey should cause any CIO to break out in a cold sweat.

According to this survey, complexity is a huge problem for data centers. For example, the typical company surveyed had 16 data center outages per year at an average cost of $319K per outage or over $5M per year. And this does not include indirect costs, such as loss of customer confidence. The number and magnitude of these outages was directly attributed to data center complexity according to those surveyed. Complex data centers fail often and they fail hard.

But outages aren’t even the biggest complexity related headache for data centers. The most cited complexity related problem is the high cost of keeping the data center running on those increasingly rare days when there is no outage. Other problems attributed to data center complexity were security breaches, compliance incidents, missed service level agreements, lost data, and litigation exposure. Clearly complexity is a big problem for data centers.

How are data centers addressing this escalating complexity? According to this survey, the approach 90% of companies are taking is information governance. What is information governance? According to Debra Logan, a Gartner Research VP,

Information governance is the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archival and deletion of information. It includes the processes, roles, standards and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goals [2]. 

Two points should be clear from the above definition. First, information governance is a vague concept.  Second, whatever information governance is, it has nothing to do with the problem that is vexing data centers, namely complexity. This is unfortunate, given that so many of the surveyed companies say they are pinning their hopes on information governance to solve their complexity related problems. These companies are headed for a major disappointment.

If information governance won’t solve complexity related data center problems, what will? The problem, as I stated earlier, is the magnification of complexity as it rolls down the food chain from business process to data center. This problem can only be solved with complexity governance. Complexity is the problem, not information.

How do I define complexity governance?

Complexity governance is a set of policies, guidelines, and procedures that ensure every business process is implemented with the simplest possible IT solution supported with the simplest possible data organization running on the simplest possible hardware configuration. 

This sounds good but what would it take to implement this?

Gartner’s Managing VP and Chief of Research, David Cappuccio, is on the right track when he says it is particularly important for more data center staff to understand the “cascade effect” of making changes in a complex environment [3]. Unfortunately, few IT staff are trained in IT complexity, a prerequisite to understanding the cascade effect to which Cappuccio eludes. And it stands to reason that if one does not understand how complexity cascades, one is woefully unprepared to do anything about it.

Here is my recommended plan for putting in place effective complexity governance.

  1. Train everybody to understand the importance of controlling complexity. Every person on the IT food chain should be able to recite these words in their sleep: Complexity is the Enemy.
  2. Train a select group that includes representatives from the business, IT, and data center in IT Complexity Analytics, the science of complexity as it relates to IT systems.
  3. Give this group a mandate to put in place strong complexity governance.
  4. Give this group the authority to enforce complexity governance.
  5. Hold this group responsible for delivering simpler IT systems that run on simpler data centers.
  6. Document the benefits complexity governance delivers.

I don’t claim that complexity governance is simple. The reality is that complexity governance requires a significant and sustained effort. But it is an effort that delivers substantial business value. If you don’t believe me, ask somebody who is in the middle of their tenth three hundred thousand dollar data center outage this year. They will tell you: Complexity is the enemy.

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The photo is by Route79 on Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons. (


This blog is copyright by Roger Sessions. This blog may be copied and reproduced as long as no changes are made and his authorship is acknowledged. All other rights are reserved.


Dinkar Gupta said...

Completely agree..

Just a question! What would be the set of topics you would advise to be included in the training IT Complexity Analytics..

Roger Sessions said...

Dinkar, Good question. I have actually taught a graduate course in IT Complexity Analytics at the University of the Andes which is very much what I would teach in a corporate setting. We cover the important models for complexity, the mathematics of complexity, the methodologies that eliminate complexity, and the pragmatic issues that one runs into in trying to address complexity in the corporate world.

Anonymous said...


what would really help me with the concepts would be to see a sample Snowman partitioning, either a worked example or a real-world case study.

Are there any available?

Kind Regards,


Roger Sessions said...

The problem is that the examples are either too trivial to show the power of the Snowman approach or to complex to cover in the space of a white paper. However I do give an example in my white paper, The Mathematics of IT Simplification which you can find on the ObjectWatch web site

N├ęstor said...


very good post


is there some roadmap for IT Governance?
How can We have governance and being business compliance at the same time?

Thanks in advance.


Roger Sessions said...

Thanks Nestor!
A lot of people have worked on IT Governance. The problem is that they don't consider Complexity as something to be worried about. And as far as business compliance, my position is that simplicity is a requirement for business compliance. As things get more and more complex, the ability of the business to use them gets less and less.