I've been lying to myself: I thought IT would survive the next shift in technology as all infrastructure moves to the cloud. But I no longer believe IT will survive that cloud shift -- certainly not IT as we know it. Sure, there will always be on-premises dinosaurs like myself who prefer to install Exchange manually. But the shift to the cloud is coming.
The debate between operating expense (aka opex, the cloud's approach) and capital expense (aka capex, the on-premises approach) is waged daily at companies. Although there are trade-offs no matter what a firm chooses, it's clear that opex is increasingly favored. In the age-old rent-versus-buy debate, the cloud is making rental very compelling, especially as managed cloud environments begin to implement tools that provide automated spin-up/spin-down to avoid excessive consumption of resources (and higher costs).
[ To get up to speed on the cloud, read InfoWorld's series of cloud Deep Dive PDF reports that expains what you need to know about applications, security, storage, big data, and private clouds. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in InfoWorld's Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]
I recently read "The Big Switch" by Nicholas Carr, the same guy who wrote the controversial 2004 title "Does IT Matter?" that questioned the future relevance of IT. His personal opinion aside, what struck me about "The Big Switch" is Carr's explanation of how the use of electricity shifted from on-premise systems -- companies had electricity departments, complete with electrical architects and managers, sort of like IT departments today -- to third-party electrical grids that businesses simply tapped (like today's cloud services). Electricity went from an item on which a business focused half its time, attention, and labor to a simple utility it plugged into and paid for. Like it or not, the same is happening in IT.
Some of us remember the days when IT held great prominence in any business and, as a result, saw a lot of money sent its way. But 20 years later, businesses sign up for Office 365, and an office manager adds user accounts to a simple Web interface. What was once handled by IT is becoming a commodity service provided by something very much like a public utility.
I recently logged into a Windows Azure portal, picked a template that included Windows Server 2012 and SharePoint, and spun it up in minutes while I went and got a cup of coffee. It was finished well before I returned.
I could have done the same thing on-premises too, but not without an infrastructure and a good deal of time to get the software in place to make it happen. By contrast, with Azure I didn't have to do much of anything but choose what I wanted. It doesn't matter whether you use Azure or another vendor's service (I opt for Azure because it works with the Microsoft technologies I already know); the patterrn is the same: Log in, make a few choices, and you're done. That's not the future -- that's the present.