Is the Cloud Making IT Obsolete?

The title of this blog post is also the title of a talk I’m giving today at CloudSlam in San Francisco. Creating the presentation gave me an opportunity to think about this issue. While it’s a purposefully provocative title (those are the ones usually picked for presentations, after all), it’s also a question that many IT departments are wrestling with as they feel the impact of cloud computing.


Analysts and management vendors (BMC included) shout from the rooftops about the advent of shadow IT and the fact that if IT does not embrace cloud, they will be a relic of a bygone era. I’m reminded of the hardworking folks that delivered ice before freezers were invented. Is that the future of IT? Is this a foregone conclusion, or can IT still reinvent itself?


I do not believe that the end is near for centralized IT. Cloud is making existing IT practices obsolete, but not the IT function itself. And while the cloud solves many problems, at its core, it is just a new layer of abstraction, and it still has to be managed. Think about what you are getting from a public IaaS provider – a server at a point in time. If that server is turned off, it’s gone. If the application running on that server bogs down, maybe you have crack engineers that built a self-healing application, or maybe there is something that needs to be troubleshot. More likely it’s the latter. There are entire new sets of best practices that haven’t even been written yet for cloud. There is no question that IT must fundamentally change to mirror the abstraction of cloud, and what’s astounding is the pace at which the benefits of cloud are forcing the issue.


What will IT look like in 3-5 years? There will undoubtedly be a portion of IT that will remain unchanged. Applications won’t migrate themselves overnight. While new services and applications will be written to take advantage of cloud, the business case to move every application wholesale is murky at best. Someone will still have to manage those applications running in legacy environments. For the forseeable future, IT will look like a dual-headed beast with the” cloud” head slowly consuming the “legacy” head. 


IT will evolve to focus on the application. Emerging PaaS offerings, both public and private, will allow IT to do away with the drudgery of things like OS patching, golden images, and the like. IT can instead focus on ensuring applications are running smoothly and deploying new services more rapidly. The result will be a huge increase in IT productivity for organizations that invest not just in cloud technologies, but in aligning and retraining their IT staffs to the new way of doing things.


So no, IT is not obsolete, just IT as we know it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for anyone involved.

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