Virtualisation empowers end users

By Christina Torode
Friday, 31 July, 2009

Cloud computing and virtualisation are evolving to be about not only creating a dynamic IT environment, but also bolstering user empowerment through the concept of IT as a Service.

Talk is circulating here at the Burton Group Catalyst conference about user self-provisioned applications and even user self-provisioned migrations to new operating systems such as Windows 7, made possible by a client hypervisor.

As for cloud computing services, business users tired of waiting for IT to provision a new application or service are tapping cloud providers and bypassing IT along the way, much as they have for many Software as a Service applications over the past few years. And cloud providers are not calling on the IT department, but rather going to department heads to pitch their wares.

Citrix Online Services, which consists of GoToAssist and GoToMyPC, among other services, is a $US300 million business. Only 10% of those sales come from the IT department -- the rest is bought by business users, said Citrix Systems CEO Mark Templeton here at the conference.

"Virtualisation is allowing IT to be disaggregated in a way to pass control from the vendor lockdown model to the IT department, but there needs to be a mind-set change ... IT needs to be willing to pass control into the hands of users and the business that you serve," Templeton said.

A reason for this partial passing of the torch is that users want control. They want to consume services the way they do when they visit or iTunes or their bank: no training necessary, instant gratification and the ability to turn the service on themselves using a simple interface.

Some IT departments are not exactly thrilled with this prospect of user control -- or the cloud, for that matter. One CIO told Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf that he is avoiding IT as a Service and building an internal cloud because he thinks it's better to keep business units in the dark.

"The fear being that business units will be able to see the actual costs of IT," Wolf said.

The transparency that an internal or external cloud creates works both ways: The cost of IT will be held up to scrutiny, but so will how many resources a user or groups of users consumes, holding the business side more accountable for IT costs.

Drug behemoth Eli Lilly, which uses Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) for scientific collaboration and computations, receives bills from Amazon that let everyone see just how many IT resources a particular project is consuming, then bills the individual or group running that project. And the company is embracing these cloud endeavors across the organisation because they empower many subsets of users.

"Everyone has their own idea of what they're going to use the cloud for. For a system admin, it will help them resolve help desk tickets faster. A developer sees it as a way to tear up and down test environments. Finance likes it for trending since there are no surprises as far as cost. And it has made [IT] better by forcing us to automate as much as possible," said Andrew Kaczorek, a member of the IT research and development team at Eli Lilly.

In conjunction with EC2, Eli Lilly uses RightScale Inc. for self-service provisioning. "[RightScale] has a much friendlier interface, with more metrics and controls, for our common users," Kaczorek said.

IT staff members do not traditionally warm to putting control into users' hands, but who can blame them when they are still held accountable for putting the right checks and balances in place to ensure that an application or service works?

One architect at a large investment company in the Northeast is being asked to speed up development cycles by the company's researchers. He, however, still needs to put in place corporate-mandated compliance and security restrictions and meet reliability requirements, which slow the provisioning of new services.

"[The researchers] want to have [access to] a cloud because they think they can get infrastructure faster," he said. "I say, 'Tell me what you need and I'll make it as fast as I can,' and they tell me they want to do it themselves so they don't have to wait for me … because I take too long."

His company is looking at ways of developing a cloud environment to let researchers test Web applications for the business, with researchers provisioning the cloud services themselves.

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