IT as a Utility: What Does it Mean?

Warren McCarty

There are certain utility services that businesses require in order to function: water, gas, sewer and electricity services are at the top of the list. As public utilities, these services are provided to all organizations; their cost is typically determined based on usage and demand, and customers pay a metered fee based on individual consumption levels.


When you think of public utilities, what comes to mind? How reliant we are on them? How fundamental they are to our survival? How the services are basically invisible to us, and how we often take them for granted?


When you think about it, many of these statements could also be said about IT networks, especially as they have changed over the past few years to support digital buildings and IoT. It’s becoming more common to refer to – or think about – IT as a utility because of how central it is to every business – and to our everyday lives. Enterprise networks are just as vital as electricity and water to keeping a business running.


Today's users expect networks to be fast and fully functional. They don't think about the behind-the-scenes work it takes to make that network connection happen. When you flip a light switch, do you think about where the electricity is coming from, or the process required to make your overhead lights turn on? When you think about IT as a utility, you expect to be able to connect to a network whenever you want - you assume it will. 


The Cloud is the Connection

Utilities offer services that otherwise would be difficult to generate on our own. Very few companies today run their own power grid, for example - and we may be headed down the same path with data centers and networks.


Utilities provide access to resources that businesses and consumers don't necessarily own. The same could be said of IT as a utility. With the creation of the cloud, and its seemingly infinite supply of storage and computing power, enterprises will likely start to look to IT service providers to get what they need instead of creating and maintaining it themselves.


The cloud allows enterprises to rapidly and dramatically expand (or reduce) the resources they use at any time based on workload and requirements. You use only the amount of storage and computing power you need, and scale back when desired. That functionality is also reminiscent of a utility: The water company doesn’t charge you for water you don’t use. For a fast-growing start-up, a business that is experiencing exponential growth or a company that has to cut back on its offerings, the cloud looks pretty attractive.


Potential Changes Ahead

How will thinking about IT as a utility change our industry? One possibility is the alignment of standards, service levels and business continuity. Public utilities have to follow certain standards and service levels to ensure service without interruption. As the industry moves toward thinking about IT as a utility, the same may be true for our networks and data centers. When enterprises purchase IT service, they will expect certain levels of performance.


The complexity comes when you consider that, unlike water, gas or electricity, IT isn’t a single product – and it can be designed and used in many different ways. Even with IT as a utility, enterprises will still need technology professionals to manage automation and data requirements, IoT and digital building initiatives, and wireless networks.


Whether you have questions about IT as a utility, about designing data centers or networks, or investigating cloud solutions, Belden can answer your questions. Contact us today!