Cloud computing is bringing us closer than ever to providing IT as utility, where users no longer need to know or care about how the IT services are provided, and only want to know that they are reliably there—just like turning on the light.
This rent-an-IT model of cloud computing can apply to any portion of an organization’s IT architecture, as follows:
- Service architecture—for application systems, there is “software as a service” (SaaS) such as Google Apps suite for office-productivity or Salesforce.com for customer relationship management. And for developing those systems, there is “platform as a service” (PaaS) such as Google Apps Engine (GAE) or the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE).
- Information architecture—for storing the data used in systems, there is “storage as a service” such as Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3).
- Technology architecture—for hosting systems, there is “infrastructure as a service” such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)
The big advantage to using hosted IT or cloud computing is that it provides on-demand information technology—again like your electricity usage; the juice is there when you need it. Additionally, by outsourcing to specialist IT providers, you can generally get more efficiency, economy, and agility in providing IT your organization.
Of course, there are challenges that include ownership, security, privacy, and a cultural shift from a vertical (stovepiped) to horizontal (enterprise and common services) mindset.
From my perspective, cloud computing is a natural evolution in our IT service provision:
- At first, we did everything in-house, ourselves—with our own employees, equipment, and facilities. This was generally very expensive in terms of finding and maintaining employees with the right skill sets, and developing and maintaining all our own systems and technology infrastructure, securing it, patching it, upgrading it, and so on.
- So then came, the hiring of contractors to support our in-house staff; this helped alleviate some of the hiring and training issues on the organization. But it wasn’t enough to make us cost-efficient, especially since we were still managing all our own systems and technologies for our organization as a stovepipe.
- Next, we moved to a managed services model, where we out-sourced vast chunks of our IT—from our helpdesk to desktop support, from data centers to applications development, and even to security and more. But apparently that didn’t go far enough, because we were still buying, building, and maintaining our own IT instances for our organization, but now employing call centers and data centers in far-flung places.
- And finally, the realization has emerged that we do not need to provide IT services either with our own or contracted staff, but rather we can rely on IT cloud providers who will manage our information technology and that of tens, hundreds, and thousands of others and provide it seamlessly over the Internet, so that we all benefit from a more scalable and unified service provision model.
The cloud computing model takes the CIO/CTO and their staffs out of the fire-fighting mode of IT management and into the drivers seat for managing IT strategically, innovatively, and with a focus on the specific mission needs of their organization.