Greg Enright: Utility model rife with ‘ifs’

Our lead story focuses on one major IT vendor, Hewlett-Packard, furthering its efforts to offer customers a pay-as-you-go option for an IT service – in this case, storage. It’s one in a long line of recent announcements by the likes of HP, IBM and EMC that give customers the option of forking over dough for only that amount of service they consume.

The advantages and disadvantages this kind of model offer are myriad; they are being debated and will continue to be debated for quite some time. One particularly hot discussion centres around the question of whether such moves are collectively bringing us closer to the notion of “utility” computing.

The answer to that question is yes. What is still unknown is just how close we’ll be in the end to having IT provided in the same manner as more common utilities, such as lighting and water. With those, we turn something on, it’s delivered immediately and we pay a bill at the end of the month based on how much we have consumed.

The idea of IT working that way, it seems, has taken most people in the industry a bit of time to grasp. IT, after all, is so incredibly complex, with all kinds of highly unique products somehow working together (well, most of the time) to form the behemoth known as “IT.” How could all of that be delivered as effortlessly and efficiently as established utilities appear to be?

Well, somehow, it is happening – slowly but surely. Perhaps it might work out that only certain parts of the IT operation are delivered in a utility manner. Whether that is what happens, or whether the whole shebang is eventually offloaded to the “new” utility companies, one thing seems certain: internal IT departments are going to shrink. Let’s look at a few “ifs” surrounding that supposition.

If Number 1: If the management of storage, for instance, becomes as effortless to deal with as firms such as HP are promising, the onus for maintaining that happy state of affairs will shift from the individual enterprise to the service provider. That would mean a shift in job locations for your average network professional from ACME Industries Inc. to your friendly neighbourhood service provider’s offices. Such a shift would not necessarily entail a contracting of available jobs in this space, just a shift in where they work.

If Number 2: If the majority of jobs do end up moving to the vendors’ services departments, employees can expect to see their job descriptions change. This will be most notable in the area of customer service and so-called “soft” skills. Customer service just might win the utility game, and the HPs and IBMs will be looking for techies who excel at working well with customers.

If Number 3: If the utility model takes hold, provisioning IT should get a lot easier for the enterprise. The role of the network pro within that model, however, is a long way from being fully defined.