Q&A: Delivering IT as a Service

IT as a service is a shorthand term for many changes enabled by virtualized infrastructure, from how resources are purchased and procured to how they’re managed. Learn how delivering IT as a service can help organizations reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

IT as a service is a new way of approaching internal IT. To learn what delivering IT as a service means and how it can help organizations reduce costs and improve efficiencies, we spoke with John Suit, CTO and principal founder of Fortisphere. John also offers best practices that will help you implement this new IT model successfully.

Enterprise Systems: What do you mean by "delivering IT as a service?" Is it a new concept?

John Suit: IT as a service is a new way of approaching internal IT, bringing together the increasingly familiar relationship of service provider with the tight organizational link with the business. The characterization is shorthand for a number of changes that have been enabled by virtualized infrastructure, including the way technology resources are purchased, procured, provisioned, and managed over the course of the project. These changes include both the technology components and the change in organizational relationships that come along with them.

How is this new service delivery model different from existing models?

The model accounts for a fundamental change in resource ownership. Historically, individual servers were commissioned by the business to support a specific project. Their dimensions and features, and associated storage, network, and software requirements, were determined in collaboration with IT, but ultimately the server was effectively purchased by the business and managed by IT.

Now, in virtualized infrastructures, the hardware is purchased to expand the capacity of the environment. When the business requires a resource, it is given, effectively on lease, a portion of the existing resources available. With this change of ownership comes a change in the way of justifying purchases, determining required capacities, and managing interactions with the business.

What are the benefits to this model, and what's driving enterprises to shift to this model?

It is helpful to reframe the IT organization, particularly the virtualized infrastructure portion of it, as a service delivery business because it streamlines and provides a framework for the new nature of its role in the organization. For example, if IT considers itself to be a service provider, it would be intuitive that its customers might want to change their level of service multiple times over the course of a project -- as many customers seek to change the size or functionality of their VMs. Similarly, they will be less involved in the underlying infrastructure, but be keen to ensure that errors are not coming from the platform itself, which may lead to a greater number of service calls.

An IT department that is comfortable with this service provider mentality will anticipate greater ongoing customer communication, increased pressure to justify its own investments and a focus on resource management internal to their department. By managing these forces proactively, this technology transformation can become a real organizational change for IT.

What are some examples of how delivering IT as a service can help organizations reduce costs and improve efficiencies?

As a service provider, the IT department has to manage two goals that are in constant tension with each other. The first is to deliver the service to the business at the quality level they require. The second is to manage their own resources, deployed against those services, as efficiently as possible. This means not over-provisioning, wasting resources, or, conversely, under-provisioning and risking customer service.

By accepting this service provider mandate, IT can adjust the customer metrics around a service level (rather than resource quantity), lower the excess resources being provisioned for each customer and defer the cost of ongoing hardware investment.

There are many other examples where the positioning of IT as a service enables the group to make better decisions that save time, resources, and hard dollars.

How does an enterprise know if IT as a service is appropriate?

Organizations should look for the signs that the shift has already begun to happen and use that as an impetus to embrace the change. Signs include:

  • A more short-term analysis of the resource needs of the business, with an understanding that capacity would expand with utilization
  • Investment justification is coming from IT to continue the build out of the virtualized infrastructure
  • Service level metrics are being discussed as requirements from the business to IT, rather than hardware specifications

What areas of enterprise IT are best suited to move to this model? Which should remain in their current configuration?

The adoption of a service delivery model should begin in the virtualized portion of the infrastructure because those are essentially shared resources, parceled out by IT to meet each business need. More traditional arrangements in which the business commissions a single, specific set of hardware and software to meet a project’s needs are less well-suited to this model, at least at the outset.

What are some of the best practices for successful adoption of this model?

To make this shift effectively, companies should:

  • Establish systems to ensure the delivery of the required resources at the required service levels to the customer
  • Focus internal IT efforts on the effective use of the resources in their infrastructure
  • Communicate regularly to the business customers to ensure their satisfaction with the service delivered and allay any concerns

What are the main challenges of switching to this model?

The challenge, of course, is meeting the best practices efficiently. Administrators serving a dozen business units or customers cannot continually both maintain the systems and deliver ongoing customer service. Increasing headcount in the administrative ranks will rapidly negate the cost savings of virtualizing in the first place. Thus, as has historically been the path of IT, automation can free up valuable time to address the less mechanical tasks of administration and service delivery.

What mistakes does IT typically make in switching to this model, and what recommendations can you make to help them avoid these mistakes?

One of the greatest mistakes, or perhaps hurdles, to overcome is the allocation of resources based on business requirements and desires. Resources in a service delivery environment are owned by IT and should be deployed to support the applications needs (rather than its future needs or perceived cushion).

One of the beauties of the platform is its flexibility, which will enable the VM to utilize more or less resources as needed, so by arbitrarily creating higher capacity VMs to address a historical business concern, the IT administrators are losing precious resources.

The desire for more resources comes from a concern of having too little, combined with the need to plan for growth when purchasing specific hardware. To change that way of thinking, IT should agree upon, monitor, and report on the desired outcome: a level of service delivered by IT on an ongoing basis.

What products or services do you offer for this technology?

Fortisphere has developed solutions to help companies in this transition to IT as a service. Our Virtual Essentials solution addresses many of the taxing elements of this model, including dramatically reducing downtime with automated troubleshooting, proactive alerts to prevent future errors, insight into resource allocations, and strong reporting for better communications across the enterprise. With a unique level of visibility both into the structure of the virtual environment and into each VM, Fortisphere is able to provide more specific controls on the environment and a greater level of detail, significantly relieving administrators of many of their most tedious root cause analysis tasks.