Two things are happening in enterprise IT: the pace of change is reaching breakneck speeds; and technology is moving closer to the strategic goals of businesses, creating a great deal of digital disruption. Young, agile businesses that have started with digital at their core are gaining ground on enterprises, causing them to react at speed to innovate and stay ahead. This means frequent proofs of concept (PoC) have become a fact of life.
A PoC is used to demonstrate that ideas can translate to the real world. It is conducted to ascertain feasibility of an idea and prove to the business that there is an opportunity or a solution to a problem. While not every new technology selection process will require a PoC - and many will avoid the added time and cost - conducting one can bring huge benefit and prove to the business that a project is worth pursuing.
PoCs can also reduce the risk of failure in a future project, while also further refining the scope of a project, enabling a deeper understanding of what is possible before jumping in head-first. PoCs ultimately give assurances the business needs to progress.
Here are some of the best ways to approach PoCs without risking disruption or security breaches, and to test the technology you are looking to implement.
What is a PoC?
A proof of concept is a means of bringing a vendor’s product into your business to make sure it works in your environment, functions in the way it is being sold to you, and works natively within your infrastructure. It is an incredibly important step in purchasing and implementing new technology. You wouldn’t buy a new car without a test drive. You need to try before you buy, in your own environment.
How do I run a PoC?
Running a PoC can be as difficult or as easy as you make it, but it needs to be managed well to be effective in determining the future technology that meets your needs. Before starting a PoC, you need to have clear objectives and key questions determined ahead of time. Its success depends on having these things tied down.
Along the process, the objectives and questions you are looking to get answers on need to be constantly referred back to. Don’t be hoodwinked into getting something to work for the sake of it. Moreover, more political capital is staked on the success of it, as the costs begin to mount up. IT directors need to guard against these dangers by putting in place the right governance structure with strong project management to keep the team focused on the right questions in the right timeframe.
So how best to make it a success? The proof of concept should take a relatively short space of time and require only a modest investment. It should represent a fair test of the system, but not an exhaustive one. It should be enough to prove the system can work and answer key questions about how to design and deploy it, as well as how to configure it to make it work for the business. Above all, it should attempt to show whether the product can deliver all that it is expected to.
The PoC should be built in a self-contained environment that is kept separate from the production environment. Using existing production services will most likely add more complexity and potentially increase the risk to live services. Moreover, room to manoeuvre would be constrained by change control, which goes against the idea of a proof of concept.
What is the best testing environment?
Many businesses opt for running a proof of concept on-premise, using existing hardware or buying in hardware for the test. However, teams often have to wait for hardware resources to become available, as well as for IT support to set-up or configure the environments for the PoC process. To keep costs down, or to save time, many are turning to the cloud.
This is a good solution for many set-ups due to being able to spin up a number of servers for the relatively short period of testing. The cloud can be set up as a self-contained environment outside of existing infrastructure without affecting production servers. However, it relies on a good internet connection and if a large amount of data needs to be loaded into a cloud solution, this can present difficulties. Additionally, it requires cloud administration skills, which may be lacking in some organisations.
A third way
A third way is for the vendor itself to provide the hardware to test out its solution for the duration of the project. This is nothing new - the concept of wheeling in large server appliances on trolleys, or equivalent, for the purposes of testing has been around for decades. However, with modern technology, it doesn’t need to require such a mass of hardware.
Our customer and partner, Atheon Analytics, runs its proofs of concept using the EXASOL database on a tiny Intel NUC, a server so small that it fits in a pocket, yet is still capable of running large analytical queries. Atheon Analytics works with some of the UK’s largest retailers and suppliers and has used the device to run PoCs at client locations.
The perfect PoC
To find the best solutions for your business, there is no doubt you need to try things out. There may be no such thing as a perfect PoC, but, as we have seen, there are plenty of options for successfully running a PoC.