One of the most important projects any IT department can undertake is the selection of a new IT platform. I’m not talking about adding minor software packages or modest hardware additions. I’m getting at the sprawling, enterprise-wide deployments that have the potential to generate significant rewards in terms of reduced IT costs, efficiency, and IT agility, while simultaneously threatening to throw your operations into chaos, bring work to a halt, and drain your IT resources.

Deployments that fall into this category include adopting Hyper-V or VMware to virtualize most of your server infrastructure, choosing between Office 365 and Google Apps/Mail, choosing a cloud platform to offload a vital business process, or deploying SharePoint across multiple branch offices and physical locations.

If you are considering radical upgrades to your IT environment along these lines, you aren’t alone: IT research firm Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) recently revealed that more than 60% of mid-to-large enterprises plan to boost their virtualization spending in 2011 (“2011 Virtualization Software Spending Trends”

Research giant Gartner recently released a list of 10 top technology trends for 2011 that it classified as strategic technologies with the “potential for significant impact on the enterprise in the next three years….\\[including\\] a high potential for disruption to IT or the business, the need for a major dollar investment, or the risk of being late to adopt.”

Chief among those trends are cloud computing, mobile apps and tablets, social communications and collaboration, and next generation analytics. All of these trends have the potential to disrupt your IT operations if not handled proactively. So what is the best way to deploy new technology and platforms?

Do Your Homework

To get some advice on the subject, I spoke with Doug Toombs, a Windows IT Pro contributing editor and senior analyst for managed services and cloud computing at Tier 1 Research.  Toombs suggests that IT leaders should be cautious about jumping onto any platform bandwagon before a full risk assessment is done.

In the case of cloud computing, Toombs listed a number of potential pitfalls that IT leaders should be aware of. “There are lots of issues that need to be addressed before moving any of your IT infrastructure to the cloud,” Toombs said. “Things like source-code escrow agreements are mechanisms by which organizations mitigate against future risk of a software vendor going out of business. In that circumstance, you still have the data on your own servers, and the software usually will still be usable for quite some time—probably enough time to find an alternate solution or engage the source-code escrow clause. With a \\[cloud\\] service provider, especially SaaS, they have it all. They have the software, the servers, and your data. This requires organizations to consider different mitigation strategies to protect themselves against the future risk of a service provider going out of business.”

Another example Toombs pointed to is server virtualization platforms, with IT pros commonly deciding between VMware and Microsoft server virtualization offerings. Both vendors take slightly different approaches to virtualization, especially when it comes to the cloud. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches is vital, especially when it comes to connecting your internal, private clouds with services offered by external cloud providers.

“If you’ve already decided on VMware for your virtualization stack, moving to the cloud will be made easier by using VMware’s vCloud Director product, which connects virtualization to the cloud orchestration layer used by VMware vCloud partners like Verizon, Terremark, and Bluelock,” says Toombs. “There aren’t as many Hyper-V-based cloud providers in the US, but there are some in Europe.”


Good Advice, Regardless of Platform

A report by Forrester Research’s Philipp Karcher, “Pitfalls To Avoid When Upgrading To Microsoft Office 2010” points out some problems to avoid, but also provides some valuable advice that a savvy IT manager would be wise to follow for all large IT platform deployments.

 “Upgrading Microsoft Office can prove daunting, especially for firms still on Microsoft Office 2003 or previous versions,” Karcher said. “Although Windows 7 upgrades and hardware refreshes will accelerate the transition, buyers remain wary of business disruptions, ranging from compatibility issues to the transition to a new user interface. The recipe for a successful Office upgrade includes a heavy dose of planning, an ample amount of input from the business, a package of training, and just the right amount of remediation to minimize risk.”

Have you gone through some big IT platform rollouts of your own?  Send your advice and suggestions to me via email and/or follow me on Twitter @jeffjames3.