So What's a Workload?

As we developed Workload TCO Analysis, it was critical for us to be able to answer the question “What is a workload?. In my experience, clients often refer to “workload”, but can’t really define what that is. Clearly if one wants to quantify the cost of a workload, project the cost forward and compare it to the cost of alternative platforms, then the workload needs to be carefully defined.

In its most simple expression, workload is a term used to describe a collection of activities that need to be done.

A workload is a unique metric. It is defined by the work it performs and is scaled to the level of effort of the work. By scaling I mean that a workload can be a very small function, like resetting a switch, or a huge amount of work which may be the sum of many workloads, like rebooting a power grid.

In computing, a workload is the amount of processing that a computer (or virtual computer) performs within a given time. We believe that this definition, while correct, requires further context to be useful in business decision support. We further define the workload within the cost and the job for which it was designed to accomplish.

Another key defining trait of workloads is that they are abstract. A workload would be an abstract description of the capability or amount of work that could conceivably run in different physical and virtual environments that have unique configurations suitable to the underlying resources in play. In the IT-as-a-business world a workload can be defined at the server, the mobile phone, or the entire data center level. So the size and complexity of the workload is amorphous.

The business views workloads by its accomplishments. It doesn't care about the various pieces that make up a distributed application. They just want the whole megillah to do what it's supposed to do, whether it's on premise or in one cloud or another. The best way to think about a cloud-based workload, therefore, is all the individual capabilities and effort that make up a discrete application. Allowing distributed apps to be single workloads brings the workload discussion closer to the business. This is key to understanding the value of Workload TCO Analysis. Just as the workload can be an aggregation of capabilities and effort, it can be dis-aggregated into its component parts.

In developing our Workload TCO Analysis practice and service offering, we have further refined the definition of workload to add measurability, so that it can be compared to alternative platform and managed over time. We have also implied the TCO attributes of life-cycle (over time), MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) and holistic view (across enterprise boundaries) to complete the analytical framework.

So the TCO Alliance uses this definition:

A workload is a measurable level of every IT resource needed to get a clearly defined business function accomplished.

When we do Workload TCO Analysis, we need to carefully define the workload based on based on its output and business outcomes.

If the goal is simply to put new infrastructure in place, it’s fairly simple to identify a workload – the servers, storage, network, staff and fees associated with the production or operations cost of the components. However, a full Workload TCO Analysis must also include the cost of moving the workload and managing it through its life-cycle, including the retirement of the old infrastructure and migrating to the new platform.

Let’s say a sales application is a target to be updated, it might be re-platformed to be cloud native, it might be upgraded on-premises or it might be retired and a new SaaS solution put in place. In order to properly assess the fully-burdened cost of these alternative scenarios, we must surgically identify all the resources that contribute to this application. There may be new resources required, some other resources may be modified or redundant. This will result in some costs going down and other costs increasing.

As the workload becomes more abstracted at the business application level, the analysis becomes much more complex. There are inter-dependencies between infrastructure components, data, platforms, and labor resources.

In order to gain insights and make informed decisions, an analysis of virtual functionality of the workload with multiple re-platforming options is required. This is much more complex than earlier decisions. And because of the realities of today’s marketplace you need multiple comparative scenarios (on-prem, cloud, hybrid, etc.) to make an informed financial decision.

This is why we invented Workload TCO Analyst. It’s a combination of consultation and a powerful modeling tool designed to be a platform for making critical IT transformational decisions.

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