IT as a Service – this can mean different things to different people depending on your organizational role and responsibility.
To a Marketing Manager this can mean the ability to quickly sign up and use a new technology or service without the normal bureaucratic dance with the IT Department, thus giving you flexibility to adapt and respond as needed.
To a Finance Director this can be seen as a lower risk investment, as payments are normally fixed monthly amounts and of lesser denominations than the procurement of a classic on-premises application. The lifetime of the service can also often be ended quickly and cleanly.
To the End User it represents access to the latest versions of any given service and updates not being fixed to the version that was originally procured.
However, perhaps the most impacted role is that of the IT Manager. Historically the IT Manager has been the gate keeper of the servers and systems within the organization, therefore a shift towards IT as a Service isn't a small one. This shift can result in animosity and fear of change, which might be understandable initially. However when considered against the wider scope and sizeable benefits of IT as a Service, IT Managers should be whole heartedly embracing and driving the change.
Some of the subscription services currently offered by Microsoft Azure and Office 365 are:
- A full Active Directory service
- Enterprise email via the Office 365 Exchange Online service
- Personal cloud based storage with OneDrive for Business (formally SkyDrive) and the Microsoft Office Suite both as part of Office 365 licences
- Collaboration and Document Management with SharePoint Online
- Enterprise social with Yammer
As you can see this isn't a lightweight set of services and would allow most organizations to run a large portion of their IT infrastructure as a service. Internal fears around job cuts due to reduced on-premises "iron" are largely unfounded as training in management and maintenance of these services through technologies such as PowerShell scripting are still required.
I'm sure if asked, your infrastructure team would rather spend their time working out ways to better optimise their Exchange Online instance using their new set of skills, rather than working out which of the many sticks of RAM has caused their Exchange server to go down.
There are also many more subtle benefits of IT as a Service that might not be immediately obvious, but which would be extremely expensive to implement in your own server room or datacentre. Consider the fact that Microsoft and other vendors implement triple redundancy, storing 3 copies of any files uploaded to their cloud infrastructure. Could your IT manager make such a claim? No more companywide notifications about a server being down due to hardware failures – this is no longer your concern. Organizations such as Netflix can move to the use of solid state hard drives (SSD) to get improved Input/Output performance and need not worry about the normal degradation and reliability issues associated. It's not their hardware, they're renting IT as a Service and have SLAs attached to that hardware.
Cloud datacentres have been designed from the ground up to be energy efficient and geographically spread across the world. Many take into account local natural resources and benefits such as the air cooling in Dublin or geothermal electricity in Iceland.
Also your data may actually be spread over several geographical locations, making it less likely your data will be unavailable due to datacentre outages – you simply choose a region in the world to store your data and the vendor handles the rest. Multiple active (or hot) datacentres such as this would cost an organization tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds to create and maintain in hardware, not to mention the extra skilled IT staff required.
There have been concerns and questions asked about the wisdom of organizations storing their data in multiple locations automatically. These concerns have been addressed by vendors allowing organizations to choose the location their data is stored in and by complying with local privacy laws such as the E.U. Data Protection Directive. Furthermore datacentres are now complying with ISO and PCI standards which allows for the storage of sensitive and personal data.
I've focused mainly on the offering from Microsoft, however the same is true for other key vendors as the industry moves to support IT as a Service. This phenomenon isn't restricted to commercial organizations and many governmental departments and bodies are reaping the benefits that IT as a Service has to offer. In the UK this is in the form of G-Cloud's approved cloud vendors, with equivalents in other countries around the world.
This is a vast topic which changes daily, but hopefully I've peaked your interest and you want to investigate this further. The beauty of IT as a Service is that you can go to any of the services detailed in this article and start a trial for free or as little as the price of a cup of coffee. The question really is, can you afford to not investigate this further? If you're interested in learning more about Microsoft's cloud offering and Office 365 product, then why not download our free whitepaper via the button below.