Shell and the IT Infrastructure Ecosystem

    December 2, 2015

    By John Miecielica

    There’s been much debate in the business world over IT infrastructure, with some arguing that single vendor systems are best for business while others prefer a “best-of-breed” structure. Supermajor oil company Shell went for the latter  but does that mean you should follow suit?

    According to Outsourcing Center, Shell made the decision to split it IT infrastructure between three suppliers back in 2008: network management experts AT&T, computing specialists EDS, and data hosts T-Systems.

    This decision came three months before Hurricane Ike tore through Shell’s Houston data center, after which the three suppliers pulled together to minimize the level of disruption to its business mechanics. But even before the disaster there were signs that a three-supplier ecosystem was the right choice for Shell.

    Advantages of a Multi-Vendor Infrastructure

    Shell isn’t the only company opting for a best-of-breed infrastructure. According to Stefan Bucher, T-Systems’ Global Delivery Manager for the energy giant, “using multiple suppliers is a market trend… they are dividing up the tasks like Shell did.” The factors behind this trend come down to two major components: competition and collaboration.

    The ability to pick and choose the services of multiple vendors means that there’s more pressure on vendors to compete with each other on a product-to-product basis, rather than focusing on a particular service and marketing to the customers who rely on it. This competition gives businesses more bargaining power when it comes to finding the best-of-breed solution.

    However, the new, more flexible market also provides those same vendors with the opportunity for collaborative innovation. By working together to create the best possible system for meeting Shell’s needs, AT&T, EDS, and T-Systems can all develop products that will help themselves outside of just their work with Shell.

    This also means that if any one supplier or system part fails, the infrastructure is left standing, saving Shell from embarrassing and problematic crashes experienced by the likes of Amazon, Netflix, and Tinder during the recent AWS outage.

    Problems of a Multi-Vendor Infrastructure

    Even so, Shell’s IT ecosystem has not always been without its problems. While it offers space for collaboration between suppliers, that same space can often lead to finger-pointing and a lack of accountability. Shell got around this issue by using EDS as an “operational integrator”  a middle-man responsible for making the other suppliers work together, despite their competitive relationship.

    While this is an elegant solution for Shell, not all businesses can afford the time that mediation takes. It’s for this reason, among others, that some companies are choosing to stick with a single vendor.

    TechTarget argues that the positives of a single supplier include less time spent training staff on multiple systems and less risk that newly developed products will negatively impact infrastructure as a whole. Going with a single supplier a company knows and trusts to be fully responsible for system failures can also be less time-consuming than spreading the risk over multiple vendors.

    Making Your Decision

    While the team at Shell made the decision that worked best for them, it took time for their three-supplier system to really flourish. Crotts himself admits that at first the cooperation was “not ideal,” saying that “in the beginning we had 12 to 15 disputes.”

    Whether your company has the time and resources to effectively deal with such disputes depends on your size and industry, but the benefits of such changes can be immense. Shell reported that after the transition, costs dropped by double digits and IT systems on the whole were more reliable.

    Whether or not you choose to follow in the footsteps of Shell, you still need tools that allow you to fully analyze and manage your IT infrastructure. No matter how complex your ecosystem becomes, TeamQuest’s suite of software will allow you to manage service risk and avoid disasters.

    Automated predictive analytics and performance data collection management capabilities also mean that you can keep track of an IT infrastructure that includes multiple vendors and environments. Get in touch with TeamQuest today and find out how you can optimize your IT, whether you have a single supplier or many.

    (Main image credit: Mike Mozart/flickr)