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By Brian Prince  |  Posted 10-23-2007 Print

When Patrick Piccininno stepped up to the counter of IHOP in 2003, it wasn't for a short stack--it was for Linux, with a side of cost savings.

Piccininno is vice president of IT at the restaurant chain, based in Glendale, Calif. He recently spoke with Brian Prince, staff writer at our sister publication eWEEK, about his role in the company's migration to Linux and the construction of IHOP's data center, composed of roughly 65 percent Linux systems and 35 percent Windows systems.

Piccininno also discussed the role IT plays in IHOP's acquisition plans, as well as the changing role of the IT executive and the importance of focusing on transformational initiatives that will move the business forward.

How has the role of the IT executive changed?

It's been well-documented in industry circles whereby CIOs have ... fought for their seat at the table. It comes [down] to being part of the corporate strategy and governance body [and] working with the CEO and the rest of the executive team as equal partners. I think the more that CIOs can put their technology hat aside and focus on what it is that the business needs to be successful--and focus on transformational initiatives whereby they can help the organization have platforms, systems and processes that they can feel confident in to be able to achieve the desired business result--[the better]. But that type of discussion is not even a factor. I mean, our executive team does not need to worry whether our infrastructure and processes will scale or be flexible, based on changes in business strategy.

I will give you a very real-world example of this. We are right in the middle of working on our integration strategy. We recently announced our intent to buy Applebee's, and one of the things that we, in the IT world, are focused on from an integration point of view is being able to leverage some of these very scalable and flexible architecture decisions that we have been making over the past several years to give ourselves the opportunity to bring disparate systems and environments to our ... data center and application infrastructure.

I know that our environment, and the way we have constructed it, gives us that flexibility to go out and buy a $2 billion company the way we are and be able to drive costs out of the acquired organization, to be able to bring them into an architecture that is largely right-sized and optimized to be cost-effective and highly scalable with low total cost of ownership, with hardware and support costs. That, to me, is testament that the role of the CIO is, in fact, part of our strategic tool kit to give us that ability to quickly assimilate and integrate organizations. So we're very, very proud of the environment that we have.

What led to CIOs becoming more involved in the corporate strategy and governance decision-­making process?

The integration and reliance on technology in business have caused this shift to accelerate. Most companies cannot stay competitive without driving efficiencies and improving business intelligence through better access to business data. In addition, Sarbanes-Oxley and General Computing Controls have brought IT governance and risk management to the forefront. Without the CIO in the conversation, business decisions can prove to be [less than optimal] and overall business effectiveness diminished.

You mentioned the importance of having the type of flexible architecture that can allow you to buy and integrate an organization such as Applebee's. From a strategic standpoint, how do you go about building and maintaining that type of infrastructure?

There are several guiding principles that we adhere to when building and maintaining flexible infrastructure systems. We look to virtualize--using a product like VMware --all server systems; implement Intel-based blade server hardware only; and implement open-source, Linux-based systems where possible. [We] architect technology solutions to minimize data center requirements; adhere to Moore's Law of computing, which has proved [that] technology performance and size requirements are moving in inverse directions; [and] leverage open-source and innovative software solutions running on low-cost hardware, reducing the need for physical space while maximizing computer power and scalability.

The core strategy of this operating model, virtualization, has allowed IHOP to reduce physical space and electrical requirements by over 30 percent while delivering 50 percent more computing capacity to the enterprise.

Page 2: Transformational Initiatives


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