Cloud, consumerization give power to users, steal influence from IT

Convenience, ease of use reduce front-line role for IT, but don't eliminate it

According to the only slightly facetious list of "Top 10 Infrastructure Trends for 2012," Gartner analysts presented at the company's Infrastructure & Operations Management Summit in Orlando last week, IT is undergoing an unprecedented set of major changes, all made simultaneously, nearly all driven by a single motivation – convenience.

That convenience is possible because the technology allowing it is smaller, more flexible, easier to use and easier to house in public clouds, private clouds, hybrids, servers, tablets, smartphones and anything else an end user wants to type on while accessing critical, secure corporate data.

That convenience–all of it built on the ability to virtualize servers applications and end-user hardware–puts more power in the hands of end users. It also creates a declining arc in the long story of corporate IT–one that could close with the elimination of IT entirely. .

Certainly trends this large and undeniable encourage thinking in absolutist, finalist terms.

They encouraged Gartner Chief of Research Dave Cappuccio to conclude that all the mobile technology, ubiquitous networking and network-accessible data will lead to the end of the PC era and, very likely, the PC itself.

That's the unavoidable fallacy in any set of predictions. The more clear the trends being analyzed the more clear and absolute the conlusion appears. No solution to anything is ever pure or absolute–the logistics of distribution and general stubborn, bloody mindedness of people using the technology see to that.

Each of Gartner's top trends is, undeniably, happening, however. Collectively, they can't help but create a whole new environment for both IT and end users; it's just not the one traditionalists wish we could return to or the one early adopters wish would hurry up and get here.

Here's the list, just to put the whole thing and my misinterpretations all in one place:

Gartner Top 10 Infrastructure an doperation Trends for 2012

Infinite data center: IT gear continues to shrink in size and increase in power, eventually allowing data centers to continue to expand the compute power they contain without expanding physically because the gear they house keeps getting more dense.

Resource management: Virtualization, cloud, SAAS, Mobile, all make resources assignable; managing and tracking them becomes proportionately more difficult with each increase in convenience. Managing resources becomes more important than the existence of the resources themselves.

Mobility and the personal cloud: Users want to compute while they walk, access all their data all the time and not clog up their tablets and smartphones with boring data rather than YouTube videos. So it all goes to the cloud, bringing all the potential problems of cloud to IT whether it's ready to deal with them or not.

Hybrid clouds: IT doesn't like external clouds because they can't locate or control data; top management agrees with IT during quarterly compliance-reporting cycles, thinks it's stodgy and misguided the rest of the time. Only solution: build the cloud they want, but keep important stuff inside the firewall in a private cloud.

Fabric data centers: No longer hardware housed in a single place. Data centers are increasingly responsible for becoming the fabric of cloud-computing infrastructures, connecting and integrating legacy, SaaS and cloud systems through what used to be just a big room filled with geeks and computers.

IT complexity: Don't ask; the details give everyone a headache.

Storage and big data: More data collected, more data to store. More data stored so users don't have to carry it, even more data to store. Eventually you need tools to count up all the data and weed through it for answers. Thereby you give birth to Big Data.

End of your service helpdesk: If a user's desktop applications all live in a data center on the other side of the country, why should they call someone inside the building to ask questions? Outsource the HD and let those people get on with some more productive work. (Symptom of IT burnout and acceptance of its irrelevance: no longer thinking that direct support of employees is either IT's responsibility or an activity that makes the company more efficient. Both assumptions are wrong; both lead to the rest of the company writing IT off as irrelevant.)

Software defined networks virtualizing the data center: Cloud, baby.

It doesn't look like it, but all those things stem from demands of users to be more mobile, to have more data and more computing power available to them when they travel or work from home and efforts by IT to accommodate those demands.

Virtualizing servers consolidates hundreds of far-flung, underutilized servers into well-managed data centers and saves money by stuffing more work into fewer, bigger servers.

Mobile computing, personal clouds, SaaS, the need to manage computing resources that are physical, virtual, cloud-based, externally hosted as XaaS services or are carried in by employees – all without allowing any major data breaches or security failures – drives IT to outsource more and more of the technology end users touch.

That outsourcing is more often to external SaaS or other cloud services than large-scale outsourcing contracts to India or China. What users see is that someone outside the company provides more eager, more specific support to the apps they actually use than IT seems able to do.

Convenience leads to virtualization the end of the PC and, if it's not careful, the end of IT

As smartphones and tablets become more common so does the assumption that users will have more than one device and more than one place from which to work with sensitive data.

Personal clouds make data more accessible; hybrid clouds make it more secure. The infinite data center provides the power to drive virtual servers and apps, but it's useless without good resource management.

Hybrid clouds make apps and data available outside the bounds of one company or one set of apps and hardware; fabric data centers connect those things.

Storage and big data is the inevitable result.

Greater complexity in IT is also inevitable, made more so by the need to define networks, access to applications and virtualized-everything within IT.

The end result? "The whole concept of PCs is going away," Capuccio said in presenting the list during his keynote. His assumption is that PCs will continue to give way to more convenient form factors and forces the redesign or destruction of all the IT technology and organization that grew up to support it.

Except, trends are just waves of change rippling through a set of habits, IT investments and legacy apps or policies that are outdated but still survive because they solve specific training, security or access problems other tech won't, at least not without so big a payout the cost will far outweigh the benefit.

IT may be diminished; it will not go away

Every trend in hardware and infrastructure visible right now appears to lead, inevitably, to the dissolution and irrelevance of IT as well as the elimination of the PC as primary computing tool for end users.

Wood also replaced stone as a primary building material sometime during the Middle Ages; cotton and man made materials replaced wool; the airplane replaced ground transport as primary way to travel long distances.

None of those outdated technologies disappeared.

Neither will IT or the PC (though its appearance and size will change beyond recognition) or even legacy applications, data and data centers.

It will all remain exactly where it is, underpinning and supporting cloud and mobile and all the other more convenient forms of computing.

It will be tended by a shrunken, altered IT staff, shifted several rungs down the corporate leadership ladder as befits its support role.

In between the old-fashioned, on-premise, data-center-tending IT crew will be a hybrid crew responsible for signing and managing SaaS, cloud and other service providers.

They will look like IT, but they'll be end users – purchasing managers and budget supervisors from business units taking over the process of getting end users the tools they need, now that just buying the tools isn't so complicated it takes a whole, specialized department just to get it done.

The acquisition and use of technology will be more convenient for end users, and will continue to present problems to IT, which will continue to be responsible for data security and accessibility, no matter where the data are.

The biggest difference will be that IT will become less and less of a factor in the daily lives of end users as the tech they use daily becomes more intuitive and the technology that keeps the conveniences working becomes more arcane.

IT won't go away; it will just go back belowstairs where it lived from the time the computer was invented until the dot-com era convinced everyone technology was the route to the future.

Technology is the route to the future; as the road improves, it will just take less and less expertise to drive over it.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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