For most of the short history of computing, people have been forced to adapt to the way computers work, rather than the other way around; however, that trend is starting to change in a big way.
The rise of cloud computing, social networking and mobile connectivity has put individuals and their needs at the center of the human-computer relationship for the first time ever. As a result, organizations have increasingly come to see their computing resources less as a collection of devices and software programs and more as a portfolio of services and tools that they provide for their employees and business units. This fundamental shift marks the rise of the concept of computing as a service.
Suddenly, for the managers and employees of a company, things are getting simpler. Increasingly, managers are able to shop for computing services for themselves and their businesses via easy-to-use online services, and they can choose to “subscribe” to whichever services they need, as long as they need them for. When someone’s roles in the company changes, or their daily tasks change, they can choose to switch to other services. This person won’t have to know or care where the actual computing is taking place.
This new model for consuming computing resources requires a fundamental shift in the way corporate IT leaders think about their jobs, organize their staffs, buy technology and run their computing operations. In addition, rather than focusing inwardly and concerning themselves primarily with achieving operational efficiencies, IT leaders must now see themselves as entrepreneurs who offer compelling services at competitive prices. In fact, now more than ever, they will have to partner with external service providers — or even compete with them for their own companies’ business.
It’s useful to think of each computing service as being made up of components drawn from the worlds of software, hardware and services management. To be truly effective, service providers will have to be able to select components, assemble services quickly and change them on the fly. What used to take months or weeks to accomplish will be able to be done in hours or even minutes.
The cloud computing services of today represent the first generation of this new services-based approach. In general, there are four primary cloud computing models that are emerging: private clouds, where an organization’s IT department provides services that require maximum security and reliability; public clouds, where shared services are provided for numerous clients by independent service providers; community clouds, which are operated by groups of organizations that share common interests; and hybrid clouds, which combine certain elements from both the public and private clouds.
In each of these four cases, companies and organizations will want to integrate the functions and data present in their cloud services with other aspects of their business and also with their business partners. This idea of creating commonality across organizations will require a whole new level of application and data integration. So while cloud computing ushers in a new era of convenience and ease of use for individuals and businesses, behind the curtains, in some ways, the job of providing IT services will be as complex as ever. This behind-the-scenes complexity is all the more reason to encourage widespread industry adoption of key technology standards and for increased automation of IT operations.
Though it brings to light a need for industry standardization, cloud computing has the potential to yield huge benefits beyond just the technology’s convenience for users. Results from early cloud projects throughout the industry show significant efficiency gains, including reducing IT labor costs by nearly 50 percent, reducing end-user IT support costs by up to 40 percent, and improving capital utilization by up to 75 percent.
With all this in mind, perhaps the most profound changes brought on by the advent of cloud computing will come in the realm of innovation. In the future, it will be possible to transform entire industries simply by setting up clouds that provide not just shared computing resources but shared information as well — improving the effectiveness of entire industries working as complex systems. There are current examples of this already in progress today, in sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry. In an “industry cloud,” participating companies or organizations will be able to work in a collaborative environment that will not only reduce costs for the individual organizations but also enable individual organizations to easily work more closely with business partners, shortening the time it takes to accomplish industry-wide initiatives such as validating research or developing specific drugs.
As we enter more fully into the era of cloud computing, it seems apparent that the future of enterprise computing will be based on the fundamental building blocks of collaboration, integration and automation. All of these add up to a more complete and intuitive experience for both the enterprise IT manager as well as the end user who will use these new services and tools to better accomplish his or her daily tasks and greater business objectives.
Stay tuned for “The Future Enterprise, Part 6.”