An agile IT architecture in three easy steps

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Business agility isn't just a good idea, it's the new normal. And the role of IT is to enable agility. Business happens in real time these days, driven by global e-commerce, social media networks and consumer IT. Companies have to be agile to keep up with what's going on, and that requires developing IT architectures that allow them to respond quickly as situations change.

The challenge for IT groups is to figure out how to plug their companies into these e-commerce and social media networks -- and then keep them plugged in even as technology and business processes evolve at an accelerating and unpredictable rate. Contemplating this challenge is likely to give you a headache. The job seems impossible. Yet this is what IT pros get paid to do. So let's look at a model of agile IT architecture to guide us in this endeavor.

The pace of change is now faster outside of company data centers than it is inside. Companies need to connect their data centers with real-time networks composed of cloud computing and data storage platforms, SaaS applications, social networks and consumer IT devices. These technologies are all changing rapidly, and they set the pace. Companies need to integrate their slower-moving internal systems with those faster-moving external systems.

Therefore, the first part of the model is an orchestration layer that connects internal systems with external systems and acts as a buffer to manage the difference between the two environments' rates of change. The orchestration layer provides data translation services for moving data between internal and external systems; it also handles security and performance management functions.

The second piece is a collection of secure and scalable connections between your data center and various cloud computing and data storage and retrieval platforms (the hybrid cloud). You must leverage cloud capabilities to be able to handle spikes in your company's need for computing capacity when, for example, there's an influx of new business or a new business unit must be provisioned quickly.

And the third part is made up of customer-facing applications using social media and cloud-based SaaS platforms that already run on consumer IT devices such as smartphones, netbooks and tablets. Use the development environments of social media and SaaS applications to create new applications that enable you to communicate with your customers. New applications have to run on the consumer devices that your company's customers and employees already use.

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