There is a difference. One is strategic, one is tactical. One lays the foundation for the future, the other sweeps the past under the rug.

There is a move (again) in technology that pits consolidation as the be-all and end-all of tactical maneuvers in the data center to reduce operating expenses. The hue and cry is not surprising. Many of us have seen it before. An onslaught of technology in the forms of solutions and services rains down upon the data center, promising to solve this pain point and the next. Eventually, overwhelmed by the unmanageable number of devices, appliances and servers needed to support all these disparate solution, consolidation arrives on a white horse to save the day. Get rid of all the boxen! Save money on power, on cooling, on management. Simplify your architecture!

It's a message that does not go unheard in the upper ranks of IT. Reducing operating expenses is a C-level priority, taking number 7 on the CIO top ten according to the "35th Annual SIM IT Trends Study" announced by The Society for Information Management and discussed on CIOinsight.com.

Consolidation isn't a bad approach at all. It certainly will reduce the pain point foot print, which in turn reduces operating costs. But it's a tactical approach, not a strategic one.   When you consolidate functions onto a single device, you're essentially just making room for more boxes that, one day, will have to be consolidated again. It's transferring architectural debt to a single system, simply transferring the debt from multiple credit cards to another one. Sure, it has a lower interest rate, but you're still just kicking the can down the road so you can (more than likely) make the same architectural choices that got you into debt in the first place.

Standardization, on the other hand, is based on a platform approach which is strategic (i.e. forward) looking. A platform is built to be expanded; to include related and adjacent service deployment now and in the future. You aren't just transferring the debt, you're laying a foundation for being able to keep that debt down in the future by ensuring operational commonality across services now and in the future. Standardization says "let's use the same platform, the same management, the same systems to support as many services as possible." That means lower operational costs across the entire network because skills and knowledge become applicable to a wider range of technologies. It isn't about cramming as much as you can onto a single box, it's about optimizing skills, systems and knowledge across broader sets of services.

That being said, one solution to this dilemma [the need to show real value to the business while reducing operating costs] is for IT organizations to focus more on enterprise optimization: standardizing processes, data, technology and applications wherever possible across the enterprise. Benchmarking data shows that standardization can reduce the support and operations cost associated with the IT landscape, and the impact can be dramatic. For instance, top performing IT organizations that drive enterprise optimization have on an average 26 percent higher allocation of their IT spend toward strategic initiatives.

-- Monday Metric: Benefits of IT Standardization

SDN and SDAS offer standardization at the technology layers. Not just consolidation, standardization. DevOps encourages standardization across processes and (if its paying attention, at the technology layer responsible for automation and orchestration). Combining these technologies and approaches to architecture, management and automation offer IT the means to optimize the data center and reduce operating costs that ultimately enable IT to focus more on strategic initiatives that offer value to (and in many cases, enable) the business.

standardized-network

It isn't that there's a single box upon which to consolidate all these services (there is, but that's not the strategic value) but that the underlying platform is standardized and provides the same APIs, templates and command and control console through which all the services are provisioned, configured and managed across their respective lifecycles. That commonality, that standardization, means improved efficiency that translates into reduced operating costs. But more than that, it's a platform that can (and will) be extended to include additional services, making it possible to consume new technology as its introduced without new training, skills or management systems to learn.

That's what makes it strategic: a platform approach to standardization.

You can certainly gain some of these same benefits  by simply consolidating services and functions onto a box. But to realize benefits today and in the future you should really be looking at standardizing on a platform instead.

Otherwise you're just robbing Peter to pay Paul.