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On-Demand Services –Thoughts from Down Under

AUTHOR: Michael Francis

I’m a principal systems engineer with VMware and have been involved in the development of our cloud operations services. I’m sharing my experiences through a series of blogs pertaining to on-demand services. In this first blog, I reflect on what got us to this point and will follow this up with a discussion on how on-demand services transform both business models as well as the engagement model between enterprise IT and the associated business. In the final entry I’ll recommend how on-demand services can be delivered effectively—where the rubber hits the road!—and I’ll get into some specifics.

On-Demand Services, Part 1 – Remind me of how we get here again…

I have been with VMware for nearly seven years and in the IT industry for 20+ years—and over that time, like others, I have seen many changes. I think the biggest game changers in the past two decades are the smartphone and tablet form factor computers. Both devices have brought a mobility and price point revolution to computing that has enabled access to information to a very broad population from anywhere, at any time. This combination of form factor and ease of access to information through self-service mechanisms almost overnight changed the relationship between enterprise IT and the end user.

Let’s look back—I had a O2 Windows-based mobile that I used for business in the early 2000s, and it was great. I had access to email in a rich interface and integration with my contacts and global address lists anytime I needed them. And, I could communicate with corporate messaging in a small form factor. However, what it didn’t give me was the flexibility to access information like I could with my home PC—I couldn’t easily extend it to run other applications. And unlike my home PC with its mouse-driven interface, this phone forced me to use the keyboard—which was like trying to navigate in Windows for workgroups using only a keyboard.

Then came the next generation of smartphone and the advent of the touchscreen, which was analogous to the introduction of a mouse to our personal computer. The interface was easier to use and navigate and could be so much richer from a features standpoint. But the real power was that I could access a new universe of applications through a single self-service portal. And, the applications were cost-relevant, which meant they were easy to consume and demo in order to select an appropriate set of applications that worked best for my specific needs. It changed the phone from being a fixed-purpose device with keyboard control to a touchscreen-driven, openly flexible device ready to provide me with access to the world at my fingertips, from wherever I was.

For the consumer, it was the simplicity to access a marketplace of application services and then self provision a service that was the point where so many rapidly engaged in this transformation. This ability to self service combined with the size of the marketplace fueled the prolific use of the successful smartphone and tablet platforms. Consumers had a single storefront with access to thousands of application service suppliers.

The on-demand services built into these consumer devices created a broad ecosystem of suppliers eager to be able to showcase their wares. The single application store provided a single location for consumers to shop for services. Do you see the similarities? In the past, the enterprise IT organization was “everything IT” to everyone in the organization—from manufacturer, to distributor to reseller—and the consumer had little choice. Stepping up to meet demand, software as a service (SaaS) providers are the smartphone application builders for enterprise services, and like smartphone applications, more and more consumers seek their services.

So what’s missing from this equation? What’s missing is an equivalent enterprise-class, consumer-relevant application store with access to all IT services. An on-demand services capability within the enterprise to be the storefront to a varied selection of IT services—some sourced internally, some externally.

There’s another aspect to this transformation—and that’s the ease of creation, delivery and price point of these smartphone applications. All of which created a need for an agile application platform offering a low-cost of entry to feed the demand of so many new suppliers entering the market. Further, the swings in consumption of suppliers’ offerings has perpetuated the need from application suppliers to pay for flexible-scaling, consumption-based models for underlying compute capacity.

To sum things up, the on-demand services in our smartphone and tablet devices opened up access to services and information beyond what was previously available, using a single application store interface that made things simple to consume. It moved the power base of information access from enterprise IT into the hands of the consumer. The velocity of uptake of these consumer devices spawned cloud computing, cloud computing service providers and the concept of service consumption-based computing. On-demand services have transformed consumer information access.

I’ll follow up soon on how the introduction of on-demand services into the enterprise can transform business models and the engagement model between enterprise IT and the business.

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Michael Francis is a principal systems engineer at VMware, based in Brisbane.

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