In 1968 John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote:
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
Back then Lennon and McCartney probably weren’t writing about changes in the IT landscape, but looking at the current environment, they might as well have been. Cloud computing and virtualization have certainly had an impact on IT, but IT pros need to be aware of even more radical changes to the way information is processed and consumed. Led by the technology driving the radical growth of mobile technology and devices, such as smartphones and pad computers, it seems like IT is on the edge of a more far reaching revolution.
Power to the People
Lately the consumerization of IT has received a fair amount of press. The topic deals largely with what happens to the IT shop when employees bring their own mobile devices to work. However, there is a more significant underlying trend that leads to this behavior. Traditionally, corporations were the first owners of all the cool tech stuff. After all, back in the day who could afford a server, full TC/IP or wireless network and a 64 bit computer? Then, along came Apple, Microsoft, PCs and laptops, Linksys routers, smart phones and pad computers, and people flocked to them. However, large enterprises were largely slow to change and did not quickly adopt the latest devices, and innovative people will often provide their own solutions. (There were times when employees brought their own PCs to work to use in lieu of the dumb CRT the company provided.) Fast forward to today and you will find smartphones and tablets owned by individuals throughout organizations. End users are now demanding the power, ease of use and software at work as they enjoy at home. This dynamic is having a growing influence on how organizations process and provide access to information. That influence will only become stronger as time passes, and IT policies and practices need to adapt to the new computing reality.
The changes sparked by the mobile revolution are being seen in the tech infrastructure itself. Only a few years ago servers and PCs predominantly used the WinTel architecture. IT managers could count on using familiar software and utilities. However, as Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a changin’.” ARM, the company whose energy-sipping chip powers all the beloved smartphones and pad computers, has licensees using its chip designs for use in servers and laptops. In fact, the literature indicates that HP will be bringing out an ARM-based server in the near future, that Apple will migrate to ARM chips for the MacBook and that Microsoft Windows 8 will be ported to support ARM chips as well as Intel architecture. What this means is that the processing architecture, and likely the software and user interfaces that dominate 99% of the smartphones and pad computers, will come to the corporate network. IT pros, from programmers to managers, will be looking at a new set of applications and processes as the world gives way to the new computing architecture.
Resurrecting the Company Store
In the country song, “Sixteen Tons” Merle Travis (or Tennessee Ernie Ford if you prefer) laments that he owes his soul to the company store. It may not come quite to that in the future, but the company app store could become the sole source of software for use in the organization. Part of the impetus behind this growing trend is the need for companies to provide corporate-centric tools to their employees. A number of companies from General Electric to IBM to Standard Chartered are constructing customized corporate apps stores, which are mobile versions of the software or tools typically on a company’s intranet. However, it’s not hard to extrapolate that the practice will extend beyond proprietary software being loaded on company app stores. As more mainstream software is converted for use on mobile devices, (Walt Mossberg reviewed MS Office software for the iPad in the January 12 Wall Street Journal) and as ARM-powered devices become entrenched in the enterprise, companies could easily write licenses for local distribution of commercial apps. Instead of tracking licenses and deployments, companies could simply count downloads, and increment the number of users when the license limit was reached. Imagine a world without CDs, outside software on the corporate network and cheaper, easier to deploy software. It could be coming to a company store near you.
Politics Isn’t Alone
Politics isn’t alone in making strange sleeping arrangements. As announced earlier, Windows 8 is being written to run on systems built on ARM chips. So, did Intel feel jilted? Hardly. The chip giant found a new bed-partner in Google, announcing that the companies “will work to enable and optimize future versions of Android™ for Intel’s family of low power Atom™ processors.” What this could mean is that if a system isn’t running ARM it’s running Atom. Looking beyond corporate friendships, it’s clear that the mobile revolution is influencing both IT infrastructure and corporate strategies. One could speculate that the landscape could change from a WinTel dominated environment to one where IT pros have a choice of Microsoft/ARM and Intel/Google based architectures. (MicroArm ard Integle? The acronyms need some work, but there is still time.)
The Future Is Now
Some readers may view these points as mere speculation, but, as Howard Ruff said, “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” The time for IT managers and IT asset managers to plan for the future of computing architecture and new the new policies that architecture will require is now. Look at the trends, interview your suppliers to get an idea of what is coming and figure out how to be a step ahead. Companies that saw value in smartphones early in the product lifecycle are coping much better with the consumerization of IT than those that did not. Similarly, enterprises that plan for the new infrastructure will be best able to take advantage of the offerings, economies and efficiencies that it will undoubtedly provide.