Resistance is futile: IT will love consumerization too

Appliance and workload-optimized systems in data centers are a logical outcome of the consumerization of IT

It's only a matter of time until the consumerization of IT bleeds over from your non-IT employees into your IT department. Although this may sound far-fetched, iPad-like systems such as appliances and workload-optimized systems are finding a foothold in your data center, and the trend has only started.

Consumerization of IT is here to stay

As InfoWorld's Galen Gruman explains, the consumerization of IT is in full force, as employees select hardware and software that best meet their needs without regard for corporate IT standards. The trend started well before, iPhones, and iPads made their way into the enterprise, but these three technologies are important because they highlight the choices being made by employees. These decisions are often markedly different from those an IT professional would tend to support when making corporate purchases.

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All three technologies offered fewer choices and were less open than the technologies already in use by IT. Terms like "walled gardens" and "lock-in" were often voiced within IT to describe, the iPhone, and the iPad in their early days of enterprise usage. In many respects, these concerns still apply.

Yet, all three technologies have found their way onto the corporate standard list. This doesn't mean these are the preferred technologies in every case, but they have a role to play in today's IT department.

The value-versus-control spectrum

Consumerization of IT hits close to home for me. I started to type this post on my iPad, then later on my MacBook Air. I use both for work purposes at varying times, and both are my personal devices.

It occurred to me that in choosing an iPad and a MacBook Air, I made choices that I'd never have expected even two years ago. For the better part of 15 years, I had purchased hardware and software that I could tinker with and had broad control over. However, the "it just works" nature of the iPad and the performance, portability, and, yes, the aesthetics of the MacBook Air became important decision factors.

By going to a Mac after years on a PC, most of my applications, tools, and custom scripts stopped being useful. I have fewer choices of applications and much lower configurability on my MacBook Air and iPad. It wasn't a painless transition. I still need to keep a Windows 7 and VMware Fusion license around, as my tax program of choice supports only Windows.

However, the value I perceived from a simpler-to-use and better-integrated system helped me get over my historical approach to IT systems and software. I highly doubt I'm alone in this progression on the spectrum of control and configurability versus integrated system ease-of-use and performance.

Growing use of appliances and workload-optimized systems in data centers

The very same concerns I had when considering an iPad or MacBook Air are relevant for IT professionals tasked with doing more with less. The notion of giving up control and choice is often viewed negatively by IT professionals. But when the value of a workload-optimized system is considered, especially if it's based on open standards, the attractiveness of these systems begins to outweigh the reduced control and configurability.

The very same professionals reading this blog and running countless IT departments are happily toting iPhones, iPads, Samsung Galaxy Tabs, and/or MacBook Airs. The ease-of-use and performance at certain tasks that these integrated systems provide are bound to affect how IT makes decisions for data center tools by showing the value of a different approach.

Think about all the time and effort spent on building systems from piece parts, applying fixes and upgrades to individual pieces of the system. How much more valuable work could you do for your company if you didn't spend hours or months on these tasks? Now think about how much time you spend keeping your iPad up to date: virtually no time at all. Why can't data center tools be like that?

This idea clicked for me a few months ago, and I believe it will take hold with more and more IT professionals. Some will ignore the logical conclusions, while others will question whether their current approach to building, maintaining, and upgrading systems is optimal for every situation. Note that it's not a binary conclusion: There is no reason to think that the growing use of workload-optimized systems means the end of the custom-built systems market. Both types of systems have a role to play in a modern data center.

For example, appliances are already a growing part of the IT landscape. IT has long been comfortable with appliances for important but nondifferentiating layers of the IT stack, such as firewalls. Now, customers are increasingly looking at appliances for higher-value IT capabilities, including business analytics.

Oracle's Exadata and IBM's Netezza Twinfin are two appliances that have been growing by narrowing choice and configurability while optimizing for a particular task. In fact, Oracle recently made a point of highlighting the growth of Exadata as a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing quarter. That's what I mean by iPad-like systems in the data center.

Although we're likely decades away from replacing your systems of choice with a big, fat tablet device, the consumerization of IT will increase the willingness of IT professional to adopt appliance and appliancelike systems in enterprise data centers. Is your IT department ready for this shift?

I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

This article, "Resistance is futile: IT will love consumerization too," was originally published at Read more of Savio Rodrigues's Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.