The Role of IT in the Era of the Cloud


Even the most optimistic people in IT can't help but wonder what will become of them and their jobs in this new era of cloud computing.

The only thing that is certain is that their jobs will change along with their roles within the organization. Instead of building solutions and maintaining systems, it's more likely that IT people will become the integrators of cloud computing services of all different types and sizes.

Right now, there is no such thing as the holistic cloud. There is a range of services that range from something as simple as backup and recovery to more complicated custom applications running on public cloud services such as Amazon EC3. Somewhere in between those two extremes are a raft of software-as-a-service applications that are for all intents and purposes outsourced business processes from the perspective of internal IT.

But even as the infrastructure and, in some cases entire applications, move into the cloud, somebody still needs to manage and integrate these services on behalf of the business. That person may not look like the classic enterprise IT person we know today. Instead, they will probably be a much more business-centric IT person. But whoever they are, the process of governing IT services in the cloud via various policies engines will still need to be done.

As Tom Young, a partner and managing director for CIO services and infrastructure at the IT consulting firm TPI, notes, we're really going through several phases of cloud computing that harken back over 20 years. The current phase is marked by relatively simple services and SaaS. The next phase will be a whole lot more dynamic. The problem is that most of the applications that need to take part in that second phase of cloud computing are nowhere near ready. This is why we see IT organizations spending so much time on virtualization and best practices such as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). There's no doubt that core mission-critical applications will be moving to both external and internal cloud computing platforms. The challenge for the next few years is going to getting them ready for that move.

As cloud computing services mature, the cost of switching between these providers will fall as industry standard interfaces and application programming interfaces become more widely available. It will then fall to the internal IT department to manage a cloud computing framework that is going to function much more like a dynamic utility than most people realize today.

In the meantime, internal IT people should be positioning themselves to be the general contractors of a rich set of integrated services, as opposed to being seen as the people that maintain a whole lot of underutilized hardware and software that the rest of the business views as a fixed asset that needs to be eliminated.