Is Hardware Becoming Irrelevant?
As hardware becomes less relevant, the IT staff will change.
Hardware, certainly at the desktop and especially mobile, is becoming irrelevant. It is the software and the mobile access technology that count more today. Hardware will remain relevant to the carriers, network and cloud providers, but less so to the enterprise. Let's look at some possible hardware environments that could emerge soon.
The considerable movement to the cloud will essentially eliminate the data center for many enterprises, especially the smaller ones. Even large enterprises may elect to use cloud storage because of its low cost, rather than owning their own storage facilities.
The cloud also can offer features and functions, focused on specific enterprise departments, that do not look cost effective to implement on premises at the enterprise. Consider how many people now use salesforce.com and not internal systems. This allows the enterprise to retire old hardware and avoid purchasing new. The enterprise no longer needs servers, storage, and the network that connects all of them together.
The software can still be owned or licensed to the enterprise implementing it on infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) cloud services. Smaller enterprises and special functions can be supported by software-as-a-service (SaaS). In all these cases, hardware at the enterprise is eliminated.
A good example is retiring the PBX, not purchasing an IP-PBX but instead moving this function to the cloud. Many enterprises are considering adding UC to their user services through cloud implementation. So even if the PBX or IP-PBX continues to exist, the hardware to implement UC will not be purchased. The more functions that are moved to the cloud, the less hardware sold to the enterprise.
Most discussions about BYOD deal with working while not in the office. I suggest that as more workers employ their own devices, they will use the desktop less and less. There may be shared printers on premises that can be accessed through the mobile device. The use of the mobile device will cause the enterprise to hesitate to refresh the desktop. In some cases, the enterprise may eliminate the desktop hardware entirely.
We can already see desktop PC sales declining in favor of portable devices like laptops and tablets. I envision a wireless docking station for the mobile device that charges it while the user works with the mobile device. The docking station may include a display and keyboard but no processor, internal storage nor cable connections. All internal communications will be wireless over a Wi-Fi network. With the continual speed increases in 802.11 standards, most users will experience speeds close to what a wired network can support.
The enterprise will still need cabling for connecting the access points to the LAN switches, but the cabling to the desktop will become redundant and unnecessary. So there will be some hardware still in use. Eventually these network components will reach end-of-life and need to be replaced, leading to some hardware sales.
All Things Mobile
If we take mobile devices to their limits, then why can't the enterprise's internal network be eliminated? Cables, LAN switches, routers, firewalls, or even SBCs are no longer needed. There would be little need for backup power for IT. Would there even be a need for IT as we know it?
A forward-looking wireless provider could offer complete wireless solutions to the enterprise. No Wi-Fi needed, cellular will do just fine. Many of these providers are also offering cloud services. The packaging of communications and cloud services could be a hard offering to refuse.
Tablets plus Services
Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and many others to come are offering their own mobile endpoint, the tablet. These companies could offer services to their tablet owners that are unique to their service offerings above and beyond what the tablet owner could already access.
For example, Microsoft could combine its Office 365 service, Bing, and new Surface tablet into a business productivity toolkit that could encourage the user to employ only Microsoft products. Google could do the same with its products and services.
The subscription pricing model is very appealing. Having an Amazon tablet means you go to Amazon first. If Amazon does not control the device, it still may be able to control access. Combining them together provides assurance that Amazon comes first.
This is essentially a variation of the cloud idea with better packaging. Now the enterprise can procure the endpoint hardware and services covered by a single agreement with a single vendor. This leaves very little for the enterprise IT staff to manage.
The Changes to Come
As hardware becomes less relevant, the IT staff will change. Fewer hardware specialists will be needed. More of the IT staff's function will be managing outside resources. Some of the IT staff will become less relevant as hardware becomes less relevant. What can become more of a headache is trying to satisfy the users with services that IT has less real-time control over.
Hardware companies like HP, Cisco, Huawei, Dell, and many others will have to respond with these changes or lose considerable business and suffer lower profits. As an example, IBM revenue is obtained more from services than hardware. Others will have to follow this example to survive in the future.