Serverless computing and the changing role of CIOs

data center

The role of the chief information officer is changing, according to experts at consultancy companies Gartner and IDC. 

In a speech at the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum earlier this year, Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president, Gartner Research,  said a “digital first” strategy is emerging.

And although he didn’t say “data centres” in this context, one of the trends emerging that is likely to change things for CIOs is the virtualisation of data centres.

And with the emergence of OpenStack as a solution to quickly switching from one cloud provider to another, much will change for CIOs going forward.

Whereas before the phrase “data centre” automatically made you think of a building with servers inside, now a data centre can just be an abstracted layer of computing which may not be attached to one particular data centre or another.

As George Reynolds, who advises CIOs in the health industry, says: “The days of implementing software and running data centers as Job 1 of the CIO are largely gone.”

It could be said that data centres are being increasingly defined by software rather than hardware, which is why companies like VMware have been marketing their idea of the software defined data centre.

Physical data centres are not of course going to become obsolete. After all, no matter how much abstraction occurs, sooner or later that abstraction has to come down to Earth and go through a physical computer somewhere.

But the level of abstraction being achieved now is significant and is giving rise to the term “serverless computing”, wherein virtual instances of servers can be created which have the most tenuous of links to the hardware underneath.

Experts say such a level of abstraction and virtualisation will be an increasingly important requirement, or even essential, for the next generation of software, much of which will run artificial intelligence engines, many of which require vast computing resources.

As General Electric’s chief technology officer, Chris Drumgole, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying: “If you’re moving into the next generation of big shifts like [artificial intelligence] and machine learning, the underlying infrastructure that supports that stuff will be serverless.”

Serverless computing is essentially a new computing world in which developers and anyone else using servers can just “create” virtual servers and not have to worry about what’s happening at the data centre processing the zeros and ones required to run those servers – which it might not even know about.

This is just one example of a technological trend which is changing the role of the CIO and IT leadership “from being an operational player to a strategic partner”, according to IDC, which produced a report on the subject called The Changing Role of IT Leadership: CIO Perspectives for 2016.

Mike Jennett, vice president of research for enterprise mobility in IDC’s IT executive program, says: “Our research is showing a fundamental shift in the role of CIOs as seen by themselves and the business because of the Third Platform and digital transformation.

“While many CIOs have embraced this change, there are still a large percentage that will benefit from evaluating their organizations as well as their relationship with their business counterparts as they continue on this journey.”

The “third platform” is IDC’s own jargon for encapsulating the new IT environment, which is characterised by mobile, social, cloud and big data computing. For more of an explanation of this jargon, look here.