Is ITSM (as we know it) over when I move into the cloud?

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IT service management (ITSM) projects could be long and painful, so hey, why don’t we move everything to the cloud and forget about ITIL? Well, it ain’t that easy.

After all the initial hype, and even when there might be some confusion around it, seems cloud computing is here, not only to stay, but to change some of the game rules.

But to which extent will it be a turning point?

Are the current ITSM practices and frameworks still valid to manage the cloud? Can I still get value and knowledge of my ITIL books, or should the books start to shiver every time I walk by the recycle bin? And what am I going to do with all my process owners and managers?

Let’s have a look at it.

First, let’s consider which will be your organization IT Department role for the cloud adoption.

Will it be a consumer, an integrator, or a provider of cloud services?

What does it mean to perform the provider role?

It means to own and manage the assets which are required to produce and deliver cloud services to the consumer. It doesn’t matter whether those services would be offered only internally in a private cloud, or whether they would be shared or offered as public services. The IT Department will be responsible for managing those services.

In order to provide cloud services, the maturity of the infrastructure is crucial. Although standardization, virtualization, and automation are the foundation of the cost efficiency and flexibility that we expect from the cloud, there is also another key ingredient: service management. Even if the infrastructure is completely standardized, virtualized, and automated, it still needs to be managed. In fact, to successfully provide cloud services, service management practice should be fairly mature, and allow high levels of automation. Event, Capacity and Availability Management should be completely automated, and tightly integrated. Also, a “flexible” environment should have good integration with Configuration and Change Management.

Another feature inherent to cloud services is self-service, and it cannot be achieved without a well-defined Service Catalog, and a robust and automated Request Fulfilment process. Service Level Management becomes a key part of the equation when we are delivering things as a service and we couldn’t chargeback or bill the users without a robust Financial Management. So it seems ITSM is more alive (and important) than it ever was for the IT Department if it wants to be a cloud service provider.

What about the integrator role?

The IT Department performs the integrator role within an enterprise consuming cloud services when it remains accountable for the cloud services provided by an external third party.

We could consider that the integrator could perform not only the functions contained in the NIST definition of cloud broker, but also is responsible for integrating those services with the rest of the enterprise’s IT.

2.5 Cloud Broker

As cloud computing evolves, the integration of cloud services can be too complex for cloud consumers to manage. A cloud consumer may request cloud services from a cloud broker, instead of contacting a cloud provider directly. A cloud broker is an entity that manages the use, performance and delivery of cloud services and negotiates relationships between cloud providers and cloud consumers.

In general, a cloud broker can provide services in three categories [9]:

  • Service Intermediation: A cloud broker enhances a given service by improving some specific capability and providing value-added services to cloud consumers. The improvement can be managing access to cloud services, identity management, performance reporting, enhanced security, etc.
  • Service Aggregation: A cloud broker combines and integrates multiple services into one or more new services. The broker provides data integration and ensures the secure data movement between the cloud consumer and multiple cloud providers.
  • Service Arbitrage: Service arbitrage is similar to service aggregation except that the services being aggregated are not fixed. Service arbitrage means a broker has the flexibility to choose services from multiple agencies. The cloud broker, for example, can use a credit-scoring service to measure and select an agency with the best score.
(From the NIST Cloud Computing Reference Architecture

Putting it simply: A third party provides the cloud services, the IT Department integrates and bundles them with the rest of the IT services, and somebody else (typically the lines of business, or even external clients) consumes them.

So, what would be different in this case, compared to when the IT Department needs to integrate traditional IT services provided by a third party in terms of service management? Not much, really, at a first glance.

What happens when the IT Department is only a consumer of cloud services?

The IT Department could be a consumer of cloud services provided by a third party only for internal use, that is, not presenting or making available those services to the business. This could be the case of consuming cloud services for proofs of concept, or development environments, not related to the business.

But typically this won’t be the case, at least not exclusively.

In most organizations, the IT Department would perform the provider or the integrator role, or maybe both, and in addition it could be a consumer itself.

Alternatively, it should manage those cloud services as any external service it is consuming, and still will need to manage the rest of the IT.

So you might be thinking “well, you made your point with the ‘provider’ role, but with the other two, you’re assuming there’s still a ‘rest of IT’…

I could be. And it wouldn’t be that unrealistic.

If you already needed to dive into ITSM, or your company has been around for a while, it is unlikely that you’ll switch overnight from a traditional/on-premise IT to having everything contracted as-a-service in a public cloud.

But even in the case of small and medium businesses, or start-up companies, which are among the first companies to adopt cloud computing, putting everything on the cloud, we should consider another thing:

What kind of cloud services are they consuming?

Will it be IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, BPaaS? Will it be fully managed? Will it be a blend?

In the case of IaaS, PaaS, SaaS; we have a certain layer. But we still need to build and manage our IT services on top of it and using those components in the layer.

Would a company be able to run its business by contracting all its IT needs in a cloud BPaaS fashion? Well, I’d like to see that. But maybe the company would still need to integrate them.

So, where are the differences? IT service management will still have a question to address: Are the current frameworks, as ITIL, still valid to manage the cloud? I think so. ITIL is a best-practice framework that offers you guidelines in the IT service management area, but you still need to adapt it to your organization. And in a previous post, Vasfi Guscer points out several important considerations regarding ITIL and cloud computing combinations.

So I hope you didn’t throw your ITIL books in the recycle bin. If you haven’t done it yet, now would be a good time to look at the blog post “ITIL and cloud series: Beyond the books, ITIL value and cloud implications” by Claudio Valant.

Best regards!

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