IT and the Self-Service Data Center

Arthur Cole
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How Well Do You Know the Cloud?

The way some futurists envision it, the enterprise will not only be fully virtualized and cloud-enabled relatively soon, but completely self-service as well.

That means whenever someone wants to accomplish anything data-related they simply provision their entire operating environment – everything from the applications and services to underlying infrastructure – with no more difficulty than launching an app on their mobile phone.

Naturally, there are many in IT who shudder at this prospect, not only due to job security fears but to the enormous security and operational challenges it represents.

But is self-service for real? And if it is, how close are we to a fully self-service data environment?

According to The UK Register’s Trevor Pott, the reality far exceeds the hype at this point. To be sure, SaaS, IaaS and other as-a-services have made it easier to provision new resources, but this is still largely the province of the IT administrator. Establishing soup-to-nuts data ecosystems is still beyond the reach of most end users, particularly when the challenge encompasses coordinating the interplay between groups of users. When it comes to managing workflows, establishing levels of service and provisioning resources, even virtual ones, most users have neither the time nor the inclination to delve deeply into the underbelly of IT. They just want their apps to run.

This isn’t to say that developers aren’t trying to foster self-service. In fact, this is what the entire concept of workspace virtualization is about. Firms like RES Software are coming out with increasingly sophisticated approaches to self-service functionality, primarily by offering apps in a central repository and then automating the rest of the provisioning process behind the scenes. The company’s RES IT Store, for example, supports applications and services across all available IT platforms, backed up by a newly created research facility that brings IT managers, developers and consultants together to work out integration issues and other challenges surrounding hybrid and increasingly mobilized enterprise environments.

And it certainly isn’t hard to find self-service portals popping up at cloud services across the globe. Companies like CSC, for instance, have everything to gain by making it as easy as possible for cloud subscribers to log in and get what they need, even if it circumvents traditional IT hierarchy. The company uses a number of CA Technologies tools, such as the CA Automation Suite for Clouds and the CA Nimsoft Monitor, to enable a range of provisioning and management functions on a single dashboard that does away with many of the technical requirements needed to manage IT resources. The company describes its approach as the “IT vending machine model.”

But even if all these self-service capabilities do come to fruition, is this still a threat to IT? Not if it approaches the changing enterprise landscape in the right way, says Steve Rushen, of cloud consultancy Abiquo. IT has a vested interest in maintaining steady, stable data platforms, while self-service is all about user choice. The obvious solution, then, is for IT to adopt a single platform that enables this kind of choice through an abstract management layer that separates users and applications from underlying infrastructure. In this way, users gain more control over their environment while IT can continue to keep an eye on things. Remember, users don’t care how it happens as long as they can complete their tasks with minimal fuss.

Self-service, then, does appear to be on the upswing, but it is unlikely to obviate the need for managed IT entirely. Most knowledge workers are already quite savvy when it comes to accessing and utilizing the tools to accomplish their own goals, but few appear willing to take on someone else’s job as well.

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