In most enterprises, the network operations center (NOC) is the throbbing heart of the enterprise network, paired with the data center as the joint nucleus around which everything IT revolves. In the world of cloud computing, though, the gravitational center is "out there" somewhere, and racks filled with servers, storage devices and network appliances are replaced by status consoles for remote services on the desks of administrators and managers. The question for a growing number of IT departments boils down to this: how little hardware can the department own and still justify its existence?
It's not as though there's nothing for the IT department to do. Client devices, whether brought from the employee's home or purchased by the organization, must be configured and maintained. Security policies must be implemented and enforced. Applications must be defined, implemented and integrated into the application delivery ecosystem, and regulatory compliance must be assured. The list of tasks that must be completed and continued, no matter who owns the infrastructure or precisely where it sits, is long. Still, the nagging question for many IT departments is whether they are necessarily fated to follow the example of the hardware, their jobs disappearing into the cloud just as their servers might have done.
The idea of outsourcing IT functions isn't new, of course. Very large companies have been built on the idea that an organization doesn't need to own the servers sitting in its data centers or the job functions charged with the care and feeding of those servers. In these cases, though, the data center was still in place — all that had really changed was the source of paychecks and allocation of funds to operating expenses rather than capital expenses. What if the data center and NOC themselves could disappear, though, with applications and critical functions provided minus the local blinking lights and air conditioner's hum? How little can the IT department own before it loses its justification for existing?
The answer for most companies is that the IT department will be an organizational necessity for many years to come. The requirement may be couched in terms of "dedicated internal customer response" or "one throat to choke," but executives will want to know that there is a local group that can reach out and immediately touch, whether they need someone to help ensure that security policies are strong or to immediately solve a critical user problem. Intimate knowledge of the organization's business and its culture, and a keen sense of the types of solution that would best match each, are the critical tools at the disposal of the modern IT department regardless of how much iron sits in the data center or how much glass is pulled into the NOC.
Ultimately, the responsibility for understanding the business needs and delivering applications that meet those needs — and for solving urgent problems as they arise — is what the IT department owns. And that responsibility is very difficult to outsource to an amorphous cloud-like provider, no matter how thoroughly the provider's on-demand philosophy pervades its offerings. As long as the IT department owns the problem of IT service delivery, the NOC may be reduced to the screen of a handheld device, but the department will remain as a valuable component of the enterprise.
For more information, see:
Self-Service Support: Helping Users Help Themselves
Enterprise IT and Compliance: Trends for 2011 and Beyond
End-User Support Costs: Be Careful Where You Cut