By Ian Hight
Today you can buy almost anything from the cloud. Applications, back-up and DR and, now, the organisation's entire IT infrastructure.
This environment can be hosted, managed and serviced somewhere other than on its own premises.
For some organisations, this is can be a daunting step to take. So IaaS comes in several flavours of cloud service:
- private: the environment is in a remote data centre owned and managed by a third party. (The organisation may still own the equipment but more and more this owned by this service provider.) All or part (such as an IBM i partition) is dedicated to one customer
- public: where the third party provides a service or access to applications and the hardware location is irrelevant or even unknown
- hybrid: a blend of the two, depending on the organisation's needs
The main reason for the rise of IaaS
It very much comes down to cost and sensible resource use. Hardware continues to be cheaper to buy for what it delivers but it is still expensive to manage and maintain. Take the instance of an IBM Power System owned and housed on-premise.
The system, and the storage and the network, needs a certain level of skilled expertise to run it. But what happens when a skilled staff members is sick or on leave?
Back-up staff may not be fully skilled on the Power System nor be available at only a moment's notice. For businesses short of skilled resources, outsourcing makes a lot of economic sense.
Reason #2: Why own hardware at all?
The vast majority of businesses are not in the cleaning or catering business. So they outsource these services rather than have window cleaners or tea-ladies on staff.
If IT is not the core business why have all that equipment on the books? Surely it's better to pass the management to a service provider. They then pay all the capital and maintenance costs. The business only pays a monthly fee out of opex.
Reason #3: Flexibility at the box level
With IaaS, it’s not a case of all one thing or another. The organistion can make decisions at the individual platform level, or even at the box level, as to which technologies to outsource. Managing the Wintel servers may be viable with in-house staff. The IBM Power System or Oracle ODA, however, require skills and expertise that may be too expensive to employ directly. Hence, a hosted solution makes economic sense.
Most hardware is under-utilised. Its power and capacity is to manage peek workloads which vary through the business week and month. So the business is paying for some measure of excess capacity for much of the time.
IaaS providers have greater economies of scale in their data centres. They can run applications in partitions that use the full capacity of the server or storage box. They make a profit on this but there are savings in this business model that they can and do pass on to customers.
Another example is back-up and recovery services. Service providers generally use their flexible resources more efficiently and economically than an on-premise environment.
Reason #4: IaaS specialists understand the technology options
IT hardware is an arms race. Make a decision today and next day there's an offering that is faster and smarter. Because of business demands there has to be a decision made, accepting that there is better kit just around the corner.
IaaS providers are in the business of looking ahead at tomorrow's technology. As business partners of vendors they are privy to future directions before their customers. They should use this information to recommend the best technology to future-proof their customers.
Reason #5: IaaS providers have broader skills and keep these skills current
Finding and employing the right sets of IT skills is a constant need. First there's finding a staff member with the requisite skills for 40 hours. Then there's setting up their back-up to cover leave and sickness. This second person is not just sitting around waiting to fill in. They need other work to do so in a small team there’s constant juggling of tasks.
With little spare capacity in an in-house team, IT staff can struggle tto keep up with the latest training and their certifications. This is not to question their dedication at all. But it is a real balancing job between the pressures of work and the need to stay on top of the latest developments. And the leaner the IT department the more acute the problem.
IaaS specialists still have the same pressures of work/education balance. They still need to have, and to prove they have, up-to-date skills and certifications. It is their competitive advantage to have the right skill set to deploy at a moment's notice.
Without the right staff and skills IaaS providers will suffer delays or make mistakes. This hurts their earnings in the short-term and their customer reputation in the longer term. There are no more compelling drivers for them to keep staff skilled and certified.
Making a cultural shift
There is continuing pressure on IT to deliver more with fewer resources. More and more departments are examining what should be their core functions. Many believe they should focus on managing outcomes with delivery of services from elsewhere.
This now shifts the onus to setting up the right contracts with outsourcing suppliers. Once these are in place the CIO’s role is project manager rather than hands-on manager. This shift in emphasis is liberating many an IT manager to focus on outputs rather than on inputs. Many of them welcome this.