The cloud is changing how IT delivers services

Need a pair of shoes? Or an airline ticket? Or a book? Or 100 servers to get you through the holiday online sales rush? No problem. Go online and your needs are (nearly) instantaneously fulfilled. Instant gratification may be the single greatest driver in the revolution that is fueled by virtualization and delivering software and services from the cloud. Today more and more vendors are launching new services and feeding this desire. The impact is only beginning to be understood.

Some obvious advantages are driving cloud-based development eliminating the expense and endless cycle of procurement and upgrading of a long list of IT solutions, and the never-ending fight for priority with IT to move an innovation forward. The cloud provides a world in which the end-user has complete control over their client-server, web based, and computing solutions – allowing them to choose what they use, where they use it, and where they get solutions from. It is the culmination of a 25-year end-user computing revolution that began with the introduction of the PC. Each phase of this revolution has created terrific efficiency gains and cost reductions for businesses in rapid fashion, moving from the mainframe to the PC, from the PC to Client/Server, to the Web and now to the cloud.

As these services develop, people aren’t just accessing functionality or resources they are discovering others looking for the same kinds of things, comparing notes on how tools and programs can be leveraged, and collaborating on how they would like to see the functionality within their services develop. In short, IT services are developing a user-driven social networking side to them. The carefully thought out IT strategy and procurement plan is increasingly becoming obsolete long before it can be rolled out as the many year battle between the end-user and IT nears an end. As a professional life-long IT person, this is a good wake up call for me.

Because cloud computing is enabled by virtualization, users can simply select the type of IT service they want without the need to scope hardware and maintenance needs and focus on the business problem being solved. For example, HR can bypass internal IT involvement when they roll out employee review software and thus own the entire process.

Does this mean the IT department itself is becoming obsolete? Not necessarily. IT should immediately look at providing its services in a more cloud-like fashion, however. With virtualization, machines and applications can be provisioned more quickly and services can be migrated to match the ebb and flow of user requirements and bandwidth capacity. The IT department is ideally placed in the business to understand these workloads and workflows, and can translate end user “need” into a delivery architecture that offers more immediacy and control for their internal and external customers. The result is smarter use of existing infrastructure; and solutions for scaling the delivery of functionality that can be viable, and for particular situations, a more desirable alternative to the proliferating external offerings. IT, therefore, has the opportunity to lead and control the inevitable migration to cloud-like delivery by:

  • Evaluating the cloud and determining where it can be part of your business strategy
  • Assessing private cloud vs service– provision and hybrid delivery options
  • Setting and communicating policies and processes for accepted service procurement
  • Defining acceptable terms of service for security and data handling, considering migration in and out of service providers systems
  • Evaluating cloud providers — Are they sound financially? Do they have sufficient infrastructure to support your business? What are their security credentials?
  • Monitor SLAs — performance, secure delivery, reliability
  • Ensure the backup strategy and provision — Who gets the call when there is an outage? What happens if you have to bring services or applications back in house?

Without IT the inevitable migration to cloud-based computing will be chaotic, without parameters and cost businesses the advantage they are looking to gain. The first steps for the IT department begins with diagnostics: understanding what your assets are both virtual and physical, what users are doing, what software is running on every image whether offline or online, their compliance with policy, configuration and security baselines, the capacity and usage rates of the underlying host and much more. With virtualization many of the imperatives in asset management are changing and the most current tools to assess this kind of information are fast becoming available from the cloud, where users who previously required licenses from disparate on-premise products are now able to pick and choose and combine functionality that best suits them. And as mentioned above, they can join and learn from a community of other IT professionals that face the same challenges.

Cloud computing brings to IT what the Internet marketplace has done for consumerism. You can print your boarding pass, choose your seat and even check in for a flight online, without help from anyone. Similarly, the end-user community is tired of waiting for IT to provision a new server or application, are developing a taste for this kind of immediacy and control. IT departments may not be thrilled with the idea of putting more control in the hands of their end users, but they will have to embrace it or face chaos.

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