Is there a point where business can safely assume they have hit the limit of what traditional IT organizations have to offer? In an Internet and data driven world, does IT simply lack the agility and depth needed to fulfill business requirements and need for innovation?
Parts of cloud computing have chimed a loud and painful wake up call for many IT managers. Even at the most simple level, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), it might be fair to say this is simply a utility to accelerate data center decommissioning, and the process of physically decoupling under computing compute, storage, and network infrastructure from the business.
Due to a lack of PaaS and SaaS interface and building block standards, we still have a long ways to go before we can effectively call either utilities, or truly serve the needs of interoperability and systems integration.
Of course this idea is not new. Negroponte kicked off the idea in his great view of the future in the "Big Switch," with a lot of great analogies about compute, network, and storage capacity as a modern day adaptation of the electrical grid.
We like to look at the analogy of roads (will not look at water today, but the analogy still applies). Roads are built using standards. In the US the Department of Transportation establishes the need, and construction standards for Interstate Highways, and US highways. The states establish standards and requirements for state roads, and county / local governments establish standards for everything else.
The roads are standard. We know what to expect when driving on an Interstate Highway. Whether it be bridge height, lane sizing, on / off ramps, or even rest stops – it is hard to be surprised when driving the Interstate Highway system.
However the highway system does not unnecessarily inhibit development of vehicles which use the highways – there are hundreds of different makes, models, and sizes of vehicles on the road, and all use the same basic infrastructure.
Getting back to cloud computing, to make our IaaS a true utility, we need to ensure interoperability and portability within the IaaS underlying technologies, and allow for true on-demand portability of the physical infrastructure, management systems, provisioning systems, and billing systems. Just like with the electrical grid. And standards much like the highway system, with the flexibility to support predictable, innovative ideas.
Once we have removed the burden of underlying physical IT infrastructure from our planning model, we can focus our energy on higher levels of utility, including PaaS and SaaS.
Enterprise Architecture frameworks, such as TOGAF, promote the use of Architecture Building Blocks (ABB) and Solution Building Blocks (SBB). Where ABBs may define global, industry, and local standards, SBBs provide definition for solutions which are specific to a project, and do not normally have either standards or other reusable components to draw from. However, development of SBBs should still acknowledge and have a design which will support either an existing standard, or broader development of new standard interfaces in the future.
This includes the most important component of open, standard, and reusable interfaces (APIs) which support service-orientation, interoperability, and portability of data. Which may also be considered characteristics of the future PaaS and SaaS utilities. Or in more simple terms, edging closer to the death of proprietary data or physical interfaces and functionality.
Now a reminder – at this level we are still chasing to create utilities which will absolutely reduce or eliminate our need for specialized IT. Yes, there are exceptions where specific equipment interfaces are unique to a technology, such as rock crushers in the mining industry. However, for example, we are still able to conduct agile business on a global scale with all our customers, competitors, suppliers, and vendors all using compatible email.
That is the objective, to make the underlying infrastructure, including much of PaaS and SaaS, standard, and serve he needs of business innovation, without the danger of being inhibited by proprietary and non-standard or compatible interfaces.
Build a business on innovative ideas, create competitive or unique selling points and products, focus energy on developing those innovations, and relate yourselves to the burden resulting from carrying excess and unproductive IT infrastructure below the business.
And then IT is a utility