Our problem scenario: The IT architecture at a major consumer goods manufacturer was a mess. Rapid growth over the last several years had forced a thinly spread corporate IT organisation into reaction mode. What application and infrastructure guidelines the IT group had in place were often ignored by IT managers throughout the decentralised organisation as they made decisions on the fly to suit the needs of their particular fiefdoms.

In one year, the number of servers alone had doubled, with no consistency whatsoever on operating system selection. Different Windows versions ran on 60 per cent of the servers, Linux on 25 per cent and Unix on 15 per cent. Some users were beginning to complain that applications were running way too slowly or crashing completely, while others expressed irritation about the growing number of passwords they had to remember.

Here's a closer look at the IT environment:

• Applications: The company's most critical applications are legacy mainframe-based ones used by employees and customers for number crunching, as well as a handful of home-grown accounting applications that run on very old versions of Windows. These latter applications work well, so the priority has never been to update or port them to new versions of Windows. Besides these, the firm has a typical assortment of business applications, from ERP and CRM to e-mail and corporate instant messaging. Some IT managers had favoured Java, others Microsoft's platform. Some developers have started playing around with Web services.

• Server infrastructure: The firm has a mish-mash of Sun and HP Unix servers and an assortment of Wintel servers at four data centres - one in New York, which is mirrored in Boston, and others in London and Sydney, Australia.

The number of servers has doubled to nearly 450, with roughly one-third of the older Wintel servers reaching five years of age and in need of being refreshed. The remainder have not yet hit the corporate five-year depreciation threshold.

• Network infrastructure: The firm maintains a sluggish 1G bit/sec Ethernet backbone among its New York headquarters and seven major offices around the country; desktop links operate at 100M bit/sec. An IPSec VPN provides connectivity from smaller offices and international facilities. Wireless LANs are popping up at the offices, but have not been sanctioned by corporate IT.

• Storage infrastructure: Rapid growth has led to a hodgepodge of server-attached storage arrays of varying capacity, with a Fibre Channel storage-area network (SAN) in the New York data centre.

Corporate IT knew it needed to turn IT into a services organisation capable of enabling the business. It knew changes - big changes - were in order if it was to make that happen. But where to start?

Six IT experts will give pointers over the next week on how one fictitious company can solve its IT problems using new data centre principles and technologies.