Pulling IT Back from the Shadows

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    Data Center Applications and the Cloud: What You Need to Know

    Shadow IT is a fact of life for nearly every IT department across the board. But does that mean it’s time to throw in the towel? Not exactly, but it does mean that things will have to change, both for users and managers of data infrastructure.

    First, some numbers. According to CA Technologies, more than a third of IT spending is now heading to outside IT resources, and this is expected to climb to nearly half within three years. The figures are shocking, but keep two things in mind: First, they come from CA, which makes its living building systems that help organizations keep track of their data infrastructure, and second, they represent all outsourcing activity, not just what is termed “shadow IT.”

    But the fact remains that larger and larger portions of the overall data infrastructure are beyond IT’s control, which leads to a stark choice: Either beat them, or join them. It is starting to become obvious that beating them is out of the question, so the smarter option is to join them, but how? One way, according to eWEEK’s Chris Preimesberger, is to develop in-house the kind of cloud capabilities that users find so appealing from outside sources. In this way, the enterprise maintains the data protection needed for 21st Century environments while users gain the speed and flexibility to accomplish their goals. The main issue, though, is timing. It could take a few years before IT has the scale to meet user needs, which means reliance on third-party infrastructure will have to remain part of the plan for the time being.

    This is why IT needs to stop viewing shadow IT as a problem and accept it as an opportunity, according to ITBE’s Kachina Shaw. We can’t simply put the genie back in the bottle, so the next best thing is to adopt it into prevailing usage and governance policies. Forward-thinking CIOs are already making this shift by developing guidelines for IT to strike the right balance between user preferences and organizational requirements. Not all situations are the same, and it will be up to IT to know when to step back and when to intervene.

    It is also a mistake to view the rise of shadow IT as a purely financial issue, says EMC’s Paul Russell. In nearly every case, users turn to outside resources because they can be provisioned more quickly and then repurposed more easily than with local IT, which is a godsend for teams struggling against impossible demands and tight deadlines. If you had a choice between getting water from a tap in the kitchen and waiting for a water-carrier to bring it in from a well, which would you choose? No matter where the enterprise stands on its own private/hybrid cloud development, any IT department that has not begun the transition from infrastructure gatekeeper to service broker is already behind the curve.

    Perhaps a good place to start is by shedding the term “shadow IT” altogether. Shadows invoke images of nefarious dealings hidden in the darkness, and the simple fact is that most users turning to unofficial IT resources are merely trying to add value to the organizations. True, the practice can increase the risk of security breaches and problems with governance and accountability, but only if the powers that be treat it as a threat to be confronted, rather than an asset to be employed.

    Remember, no matter how big or scary the shadows get, they vanish when you shine a light on them.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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