The Corporate IT landscape normally presents a complex view of heterogeneous technologies with varying levels of inter-dependencies. To keep this sprawling web of solutions ticking over without issue, a significant level of support services need to be wrapped around it, which in this current economic climate is a costly set-up. However, is the shift to Utility Computing the right way forward?
For those that don't know, the Utility Model for infrastructure solutions takes the service you provide to your end users, and hosts it externally using the infrastructure and support/service solution of a 3rd party company. Messaging is a good example of something that can be transferred to a utility model; the external utility provider surveys your current messaging environment, and then designs and proposes a similar or near-identical solution, but this time hosted on their own hardware at their own data-centres. All you have to do is ensure your end users can access the new messaging servers by implementing some fat network pipes to the utility company and a couple of firewalls (I'm over simplifying here, but you get the gist).
The upside of this model is that as an IT shop you no longer have to worry about providing the messaging service. It's all done for you. You no longer have to think about the TCOs of the hardware, as it's no longer your hardware, nor do you have to provide desk space or salaries for the messaging support & operations staff, as it's no longer your messaging platform to support or manage. From the view of the Head of IT, an end to end messaging solution is provided for a defined yearly cost. If messaging stops working, agreed SLAs ensure that the utility company will fix it in a timely manner.
A bit like your home Water, Gas, or Electricity supply.
The cornerstones of office computing are file, messaging, and print. Simply by offloading these three pillars of service onto a utility provider, internal costs can be slashed and IT headcounts significantly reduced. Obviously some services cannot yet be offloaded, such as internal bespoke databases or custom applications, but as the Cloud Computing initiative starts to take hold, expect those to be externally provided in the not so distant future.
Before anyone says that they can't see this happening, think about the Facilities department in most large organisations. As little as a decade ago, Facilities use to be staffed by people in boiler suits, wandering around with stepladders and a tool belt, fixing and maintaining the building you work in. Nowadays your average Facilities department is staffed by people who are primarily vendor relationship managers. If a light fails, or desks on a floor need relocating, the facilities department organise an outsourced company to come onsite to fix it. There is no reason not to presume that the IT department of the future will evolve into the same thing. In fact it's possible that IT and Facilities may even merge into the same department, say 'Building Services', after all, when it's all outsourced, where's the difference between a printer and a vending machine ?
If you are lucky enough to have a good in-house IT department around you today then cherish it and treat it well, because tomorrow it might not be there.