Decision Maker

IT Evolves As a Utility

And you are a part of that utility. Learn what this may mean for the future of your career.

I'm not a big fan of the term "cloud." I'm even less of a fan of "private cloud," mainly because it's a made-up phrase meaning "your normal datacenter with some different management practices in place, and tools to support those practices." OK, it's shorter than that, but it's still made up.

The word I prefer is "utility." We all know what a utility is: You flick a switch, the lights come on. You pick up a phone, you get dial tone. You turn the tap, water comes out. Most of us, as consumers, have only a vague idea of what happens on the back-end to make those things happen. When we order a utility service -- say, when you move into a new house -- it isn't a big deal, right? You just call someone, give them your billing information and boom -- utility on. When you sign up for electricity at your new house, do you think someone trots out to a shed and installs a new generator? They flip a few switches, usually in a computer, and your power line goes live.

IT As Utility
That's really what IT should be like. A consumer -- say, the director of marketing -- calls and orders a new service, maybe a new Web server with a database back-end server. You know that she's approved for this kind of "purchase," so you -- the IT person -- flip a couple of switches, and the appropriate VMs start deploying. You're pretty detached from the process. A smart and well-paid IT person sets up all the automation to make it happen, and a cheap IT help desk-ish person takes the call and flips the switch. Maybe you eliminate that low-end job and provide a workflow-driven, self-service Web site where authorized users can "purchase" services that are deployed automatically once approved.

That's a utility.
And as part of your "utility-ization" of the datacenter, you have to start looking at services providers. For example, in 10 years I think we'll be amazed at anyone still running their own e-mail infrastructure. We'll all be on Office 365 or Gmail 5.0 (beta, of course) or something. Yeah, I know that a year ago those services weren't appropriate for everyone, especially those organizations with significant regulatory concerns around data security. Those concerns are addressable, and Microsoft in particular has been addressing them (meaning, if you haven't reevaluated Office 365 and its competitors recently, it's time to take a fresh look). The point is that cloud -- argh, that word -- services make your automation life easier. But do they eliminate your job?

Well, a bit. They eliminate the job of the person who runs backups on the weekends, and the person who spins up new mailboxes. But there's still a need to integrate those services with your infrastructure, connect them to self-provisioning systems, run utilization and charge-back reports, and so on. Cloud services still have to be managed -- they just don't have to be administered, if you follow me. The point is that in a decade, your organization will very likely be using cloud services. You get to pick, right now, whether you become a part of that service's management on your end... or whether that service obviates your job. Does that mean you need to be an advocate for outsourced services? Nope. But it means you shouldn't be a hurdle, either.

Be the Change
My IT attitude has always been, "Hey, whatever works for the company I'll find a way to make work, and I'll make sure I'm a valuable part of that process." I'd rather drive the truck than get run over by it.

The moral is to not stand in the way of progress. Evaluate it, decide if it helps make IT into more of a utility for your organization, and be a crucial part of implementing and managing it.

At the end of the day, utility is what's going to matter in IT. Our consumers want us to be invisible, reliable and forgettable. That takes a lot of work. There are obviously some services we can never outsource -- line-of-business apps are an easy example. So when it makes sense to free up man-hours by outsourcing the easy commodities, make sure you're giving it due consideration from a business perspective.

About the Author

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.


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