Virtualization is all about abstraction. With VMware, we've abstracted complete servers away from the hardware. For storage, we're creating automated tiering pools that enable data to flow up and down tiers as necessary in order to meet predefined business objectives. In the data center, we're looking for anything and everything that can help automate as much as possible; at VMworld 2012, there is no shortage of vendors on the trade show floor with products intended to meet just this need. Also on the floor are multiple vendors selling building block pieces of hardware intended to replace the mass of hardware that's entered the data center over the past decade. So, rather than buy a new server or a new SAN, CIOs will simply buy a new "infrastructure building block" as needs dictate.
In short, we're looking at an era of massive simplification of the technology environment. These environments have grown complex and the skill sets necessary to maintain the services are vast and expensive. Businesses can no longer afford to simply keep throwing IT people at what is not a core business function at the expense of the lines of business. Instead, IT departments will need to find ways to become more efficient and lower "keeping the lights on" costs. The companies that we see in the trade show booths are a testament to the perceived need for these kinds of services.
Does this mean that IT doesn't matter anymore? Not at all! Rather, I see this push for simplification as a reinforcement of the incredible value that IT departments can bring to their organizations. CIOs that are able to master the simplification cycle can redirect energies from "cost center" activities to ones that can become business multipliers with direct bottom line impact on the revenue side of the balance sheet. I don't see these simplification plays as a risk to IT; in fact, I see simplification as a necessary step that every CIO should undertake for the benefit of their organizations. Driving inefficiency out of the enterprise is a battle worth fighting.
There are two possible futures for IT organizations:
- Cost centers reporting to the CFO and suffering from budget cuts every quarter as the CFO looks for ways to reduce expenses.
- Business multipliers with the CIO being a trusted partner in critical business decisions.
The age of simplification will eventually yield from IT what we've wanted all along--great support and the ability to enable the business--and there are plenty of partners out there that are ready, willing and able to assist.