Gartner: By 2012 20 percent of businesses will have no IT assets

This prediction was from January 2010, and of course predates the recent troubles at Amazon and other cloud providers.  Also, 2011 saw some re-evaluation of “the cloud” as a panacea for all IT ills.  And yes, some companies have made transitions to nearly 100% cloud operations.

Let’s take a closer look at this statement and dive a little deeper into some of the trends behind this prediction.  The key trends are virtualization, “X as a Service” and employee desktop management.

Virtualization is the easy one.  Everyone either has or is in the process of virtualizing wherever possible.  Whether that is virtualizing legacy services, or taking advantage of virtualization features for reliability or redundancy, it is a well-established strategy that has definable benefits.  One key idea from Gartner’s Datacenter and Cloud conference last year was internal virtualization as a required stepping stone to public or private cloud. Now that server, storage and networking virtualization are all solved problems, we’re seeing more interest in virtualizing the desktop and that will dovetail nicely with desktop management.

The next trend is “X as a Service”.  Whether you’re talking Infrastructure, Platform or Software, all of these are making good progress.  Let’s start with Software as a Service.  If you are a startup or smaller business, you could arguably perform most of your back office functions using hosted solutions.  Sales support, HR, payroll, ERP, email and other services are all available from “the cloud”.  More mature and larger organizations are also making more use of these, although perhaps at a slower pace.  Platform as a Service is now mainstream, with an ever-increasing list of offerings and companies making use if them.  Infrastructure as a Service is clearly here to stay, and many companies like NetFlix and Foursquare have “bet the ranch” on its viability.

All of the above trends were initially focused in servers and services.  Virtual desktops have been around, and coupled with a new trend will further decrease the ownership of IT assets.  The new trend is “employee owned desktops”.  In this model, employees are given a stipend, coupons or other ways to buy their own laptops and/or home computers, which are then used as the employee’s primary interface to corporate resources.  In some models IT still manages the entire machine, more commonly a standard “virtual desktop machine” is deployed and all company computing runs in the virtual machine.  In all cases, the hardware is owned by the employee, who is responsible for loss, damage and hardware failure.

So what might this all this mean for IT organizations in companies that do proceed down this path?

I believe that those business will  have about the same amount of IT staff, but (fewer or) no datacenters, networks or servers of their own.  Their IT staff will be managing virtual assets from Amazon, Rackspace, IBM, HP and other IaaS, Paas and SaaS vendors.  Their staff members will spend more time creating architectures, devising new solutions and creating new services, using services instead of hardware.  They will spend less (or zero) time racking and repairing hardware and more time creating solutions in their own private clouds, built from other peoples’ hardware infrastructures

There will always be local datacenters, especially for high-performance storage and internal-facing apps, and to host our most high-performance applications where control and provisioning of the network is critical.  Security will remain an important reason to not put everything in the claoud, but this will be an increasingly less important driver for non-cloud systems.  But we will all be increasingly integrating hosted solutions from vendors, designing our solutions to run on other peoples’ hardware in other peoples’ datacenters, and managing IT assets that we do not own or physically install.

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