IT pros justify high-tech investments during downturn

Technology investment could yield a fast ROI in network management and automation

IT professionals dealing with the economic downturn say some technologies warrant an investment even when budget dollars are tight.

"You have to consider the cost to your business if you don't have the right technology in place," says Gerry Young, Secretariat Chief Information Officer for the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "And in many cases, you can implement the tools you need without breaking the bank."

Young plans Wednesday to share his take on why enterprise IT professionals need to start considering security and compliance at Network World's IT Roadmap Boston conference, which is expected to draw some 400 attendees and features 10 technology tracks.

In the security and compliance program at the show, Young will offer attendees a look at the current state of identity theft in Massachusetts and the steps needed to avoid being out of compliance with regulations.

For instance, according to Massachusetts data protection regulation 201 CRM 17, Young says, companies doing business with Massachusetts residents must be able to show what personal information is in their systems and prove it is protected. Companies must prove compliance by Jan. 1, 2010, he adds, which means an investment in data encryption technology would be justified now.

"The average cost to the business is $202 per record if the data is not encrypted, and when a breach happens, it isn't just a couple of records, it is hundreds of thousands and that cost outweighs the investment in technology," Young says.

"The impact of not being compliant to the business is potentially enormous if they ignore the regulations. IT pros can implement reasonable measures at fairly low costs to become compliant and that could make the difference between bankruptcy and survival."

Another area in which a technology investment could yield positive results and potentially deliver a fast ROI is network management and automation, says Terry Dymek, director of access services at Boston Scientific, Natick.

Dymek says his session will detail how he worked to overhaul his organization's approach to network management following a network redesign due to the company's acquisition of Guidant. He says knowing the investment in the new network, he had to also update the organization's management methods.

"We were making a sizable investment in a new network and you can't buy a fancy new gizmo without being able to know how to monitor it and ultimately control it," Dymek says. "Management technologies make it possible to gain visibility into the network and add efficiencies."

To better manage the new environment, Dymek last year started using software offered via his primary router provider, Cisco. He says he was able to get best-of-breed technologies such as IBM's Tivoli Netcool (network management technology acquired with Micromuse) via Cisco.

Cisco Info Center is an OEM product based on Netcool, and by purchasing it via Cisco, Dymek was able to get the software a more economical price. Dymek also uses Cisco's Device Fault Manager, which is based on the Smarts technology now part of EMC.

"We are mostly a Cisco network and we were able to get two best-of-breed management products in house that are designed to work well on Cisco nets," Dymek says. "And we paid far less than if we were to buy them from IBM or EMC outright."

Dymek also invested in NetQoS last June and was able to get the systems running in production by October. While he made the investment prior to the recession, Dymek says the value he gets from the tools helps him better plan for capacity, better understand the behavior of the network and make more efficient use of existing resources -- including people.

"With 120 sites, WAN capacity is a big expense, but with the current system I could see how capacity was unbalanced and now with visibility into the network I can better plan for new application deployments," Dymek explains.

And with the network management tools in place he was able to bring NOC services back in house and save about $250,000 annually.

"Basically I am running a business and I need information on how to run my business more efficiently," Dymek says. "Network management done right gives me the clear visibility and intelligence to do that better."

Yet not all technologies promise the same benefits for each company, says Ankur Hajare, former director of capacity planning at Fidelity Systems. Some tools can help secure data, save money or reduce manual labor, but other technologies might offer different benefits.

While his presentation in the conference's application delivery track will detail the potential benefits and ROI of investing in application acceleration or WAN optimization tools, Hajare says the technology requires a thorough pilot to determine its advantages for each organization.

For instance, application acceleration tools often make working over the WAN more tolerable for remote users, but the cost might outweigh the benefits for some IT organizations.

"In many cases the advantage of these products is you can defer upgrades, but if your business is not growing, you don't need upgrades," Hajare says. "On the basis of bandwidth justification alone, sometimes there is not enough of an economic justification for the investment, but end-user experience and response time improvements could present enough of a justification, depending on the business."

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