Or in modern technical terms, don’t throw the software out with the hardware

Geva Perry recently questioned one of Gartner’s core predictions for 2010, namely that “By 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no imageIT assets.” Geva asks a few (very pertinent) questions regarding this prediction that got me re-reading the prediction. Let’s all look at it one more time, shall we?

blockquoteBy 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets. Several interrelated trends are driving the movement toward decreased IT hardware assets, such as virtualization, cloud-enabled services, and employees running personal desktops and notebook systems on corporate networks. The need for computing hardware, either in a data center or on an employee's desk, will not go away. However, if the ownership of hardware shifts to third parties, then there will be major shifts throughout every facet of the IT hardware industry. For example, enterprise IT budgets will either be shrunk or reallocated to more-strategic projects; enterprise IT staff will either be reduced or reskilled to meet new requirements, and/or hardware distribution will have to change radically to meet the requirements of the new IT hardware buying points. [emphasis added]

Geva asks: “’IT assets’ - They probably mean IT assets in the data center because aren't personal desktops and notebooks also IT assets?” That would have been my answer at first as well, but the explanation clearly states that “the need for computing hardware either in a data center or on an employee’s desk will not go away.” Is Gartner saying then that “computing hardware” is not an IT asset? If the need for it – in the data center and on the employee’s desk – will not go away, as it asserts, then how can this prediction be accurate? Even if every commoditized business function is enabled via SaaS and any custom solutions are deployed and managed via IaaS or PaaS solutions, employees still need a way to access them, and certainly they’ve got telecommunications equipment of some kind – Blackberries and iPhones abound – and those are, if distributed by the organization, considered IT assets and must be managed accordingly.

As Geva subtly points out, even if an organization moves to a BYOH (bring your own hardware) approach to the problem of client access to remotely (cloud) hosted applications, they still must be – or should be – managed. Without proper management of network access the risk of spreading viruses and other malware to every other employee is much higher. Without proper understanding of what and how the organizational data is being accessed and where it’s being stored, the business is at risk. Without proper controls on employee’s “personal” hardware it is difficult to audit security policies that govern who can and cannot access that laptop and subsequently who might have access to credentials that would allow access to sensitive corporate information.

What Gartner seems to be saying with this prediction is not that hardware will go away, but that the ownership of the hardware will go away. Organizations will still need the hardware – both on the desktop and in the data center – but that they will not need to “own” the IT hardware assets. Notice that it says “will own no IT assets” not “need no IT assets.”  That said, the prediction is still not accurate as it completely ignores that there are more “IT assets” than just hardware.