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Upstairs, downstairs: IT goes into service

Everything on a tray

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It seems as though everything these days is being provided as a service. Software, security, storage, platforms and infrastructures are all being rented by the seat, MIP or gigabyte.

And now it's desktops. Virtualisation transforms the desktop from an item of personal jewellery into a service. Your users’ PCs cease being tangible possessions on their desks and instead become fungible streams of bits, delivered under contract.

If you think this is an isolated phenomenon, you are wrong. It is part of a broader trend, and it could put you out of a job.

Technological trends inevitably change cultures. Those early adopters providing software and security as a service today herald a world in which entire IT infrastructures become invisible commodities, provided by third parties.

Do desktops and applications fall into that category?

Younger model

Graeme Swan, Ernst & YoungService-based cultures mean different things to different people, argues Graeme Swan, a partner at Ernst & Young. For some, it simply means changing the procurement model, as IT departments begin buying services instead of hardware.

“But that’s old-school thinking,” he says.

Others take the concept more to heart and explore what it might mean to provide IT as a service, rather than as a scarce resource, to business departments.

Storage is always a good example. Business managers have always been seen as the IT department’s adversaries when they request storage. The IT department knows it may have to go and buy another piece of hardware, on which unused capacity will be wasted.

That process can take weeks because of the capital expense involved. The users meanwhile ask for as much storage as they can get away with. Better to have it now and use it later, rather than go through the whole painful procurement rigmarole again.

Pay as you go

In a service-based culture built on virtualised resources, storage is not just a piece of hardware. The users ask for storage and get it quickly. They ask for just as much as they want. Or better still, they get more storage automatically as employees use it and are charged accordingly.

Dave Buchholz, Intel The same goes for virtualised desktops. Dave Buchholz, principal engineer at Intel’s IT group, says desktop virtualisation models have become so complex that it is easier simply to look at the whole thing as a service.

“The internal stuff will just get switched off”

Consumers have been exploring the concept of applications as services for a while, and this will leach into the enterprise space. The endpoint devices used will become largely irrelevant and it’s the service – whether that be desktop access or specific applications – that will be important.

“They want a consistent user experience across their devices. If I’m reading a book and I close my Kindle and pick up my phone or tablet, then I want to carry on from where I left off,” Buchholz says. “But I also want it to show me the fonts or graphics in an appropriate way.”

What happens when services are not tied directly to specific pieces of infrastructure, either at the device level or in the IT department?

Cold shoulder

The likelihood is that users will be able to buy them from the IT department – or from a third party, Swan warns. If IT departments don’t step up and provide IT as a service effectively, they could be left out in the cold.

“The internal stuff will just get switched off,” Swan says. “There is still a ten-year period of sweating the assets. But any startup, or a big merger and acquisition where they are canning both systems and starting again, they are not going to buy a data centre, or a licence from SAP.”

That may worry El Reg sysadmin readers who don’t want their jobs to disappear. But true service means selfless dedication to others, including internal business users who may end up treating you as just another supplier. ®

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