Srinivas Reddy’s Weblog

My Tech Rants

IT as a Service

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Having read two insightful articles it lead me to think deeper about understanding the concept of ‘Information Technology (IT) as a Service’. I see a real need to think beyond just ‘Applications’, ‘Hardware’ or ‘Software’ for that matter.  While historically when IT as a industry started it was common to have the whole stack developed by one vendor (like the mainframe systems), over the years we have seen different specializations divide the stack with different IT vendors focussing on different layers of the stack (be it processors, storage, operating system,…).  It is due to this ‘division of work’ that many IT innovations (including personal computers, internet,…) have been possible in such short span. The current innovations in ‘Virtualization’ technologies and ‘Software as a Service’ are leading to fundamental redesign of the IT stack. In some sense it is a return to the mainframe days with the difference being the ability to consume distributed resources (software + hardware + human). While we are still far from being there, the implications for all (Software and Hardware developers/vendors/consumers) are significant and how well they understand and align with it will impact their future.

The first article which got me thinking was one on ‘Timeless Software’ by the CTO of SAP. The article explains at a high level what it means to be a ‘Timeless software’.  At one level it addresses the ‘Engineering requirements’ which go into design decisions and how these design decisions hold the test of time leading to timeless software.  At another it addresses the more important question of ‘Latest innovations’ challenge ‘Timeless Software’ and the process of ‘By design adaptation’ to that. To put the article more in context, SAP which pioneered the ‘Three-tier architecture’ is learning to adapt to the changing IT landscape and become a ‘IT Service provider’. The biggest challenges to that are handling ‘Application Lifecycle Management’ and finding the right abstractions for the IT stack to reduce the Total Cost of Ownership(TCO). As the article rightly points out no body still found the solution to it but a lot of people are working on it.

The second article which got me thinking was a ‘CTO round table on Virtualization’ in the ACM communications magazine.  In a insightful discussion different IT vendors present their views on the state of ‘IT Virtualization’. While ‘IT Virtualization’ calls for close working together of all the IT stack vendors, the discussion clearly shows that current trend towards ‘Hardware/Server consolidation’ in itself does not deliver the promised TCO reduction. The discussions on ‘Work loads’ (human & machine) are what we can expect to hear a lot more in the future. The fact that network and storage vendors are still not involved in the discussions shows how far we are still from the real solutions.  Also notable is multi-core CPU’s having become common place but most applications are still single threaded. The problem of creating reliable abstractions for developing multi-threaded applications needs to be solved. Getting virtualization right is a prerequisite for offering IT as a Service.

So does ‘IT as Service’ matter at all currently?  The fact is a lot of research is needed before the real hard problems can be solved. But if we see what’s currently available in the market (be it from Amazon/SalesForce.com/Google/IBM/….) are point solutions for specific problems (be it cheap storage space, computing cycles, Customer database, collaboration tools…).  While these are good initial steps we can expect incremental adoption based on research advances. I personally think understanding role of Social/Business networks is also a important part of the ‘Workload’ optimization needed to provide IT as a Service. While legacy vendors do have a advantage in the emerging IT landscape but there is a scope for innovation for all.

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Written by srinivasreddy

November 16, 2008 at 1:50 pm

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  1. […] Link: IT as a Service […]

  2. […] vendors. I had actually blogged as far as in 2007 on ‘Everything as a Service’ and in 2008 on ‘IT as a Service’. Interestingly most of what I written then is still valid just that the plot got more complex and […]


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