The economy has been battered and bruised over the past few years, and IT hasn’t escaped the downturn. All of us know someone that has been impacted by layoffs, outsourcing, and other economically-driven hardships. My colleague Michele Crockett gives some excellent tips and advice on how IT pros can navigate this challenging employment climate in her column, "More Bumps in the IT Job Recovery Road," this month.

      From a management perspective, surviving economic hardship isn’t only about retaining the best employees. There are several IT products and services that can radically impact your bottom line, from virtualization and cloud computing to IT training and other programs and initiatives. Here’s a short list of some products and technologies that, when implemented correctly, can save money, improve ROI, and make your IT department more agile, flexible, and responsive to business needs.

 

Virtualization

Just about every IT department has virtualized a few servers and achieved cost savings by reducing power consumption and the physical footprint of underutilized hardware. But server virtualization is only part of the story; desktop virtualization, application virtualization, and storage virtualization all have the potential to make IT more agile and efficient than server virtualization alone. I interviewed VMware CEO Paul Maritz a while ago (InstantDoc ID 102507), and he spoke of the potential virtualization had to make IT much more fluid, reactive, and efficient than it is today.

      “\\[Virtualization has to become\\] this layer of software that truly hides all the complexity in the resource layers, whether those be hardware or software resources, and frees the application of having to know too much or being dependent upon anything else,” Maritz said. “\\[To\\] really get this vision of the internal cloud to come about, anything that is tied to a physical device today has to be freed from that device. So whether it be a firewall, a router, a data scanning engine, or whatever—all those things that today are physical boxes have to transform into things that can essentially be attached to these applications and move around with the applications.”

      An ambitious virtualization strategy can reap impressive rewards in terms of utility, efficiency, and cost savings, but experts warn that virtualization can open the door to expensive problems if not deployed with the right strategy and planning. “Virtualization now drives efficient IT from all angles, including data center design, platform updates, and application and infrastructure modernization, as well as traditional and new delivery models, such as infrastructure utility and cloud computing,” says Philip Dawson, research vice president at Gartner. “However, virtualization does take investment; the savings are not a given.”

 

Cloud Computing

One of the most hyped and over-used buzzwords in the IT industry is cloud computing. Our own Paul Thurrott sees cloud computing as an “ill-defined and rarely understood technology” (InstantDoc ID 126888), and many IT departments are still apprehensive about considering the technology for security, compliance, and other reasons.

      But the cloud is proving to be a valuable cost-saving tool for many organizations, including the likes of the Oregon Department of Education. In 2010 the Oregon Department of Education switched many of their computing needs into the cloud by switching to Google Apps for Education. All public schools in Oregon now have access to cloud-based email, website development, video conferencing, calendaring, and shareable online documents. In a statement announcing their move to the cloud, the Oregon Department of Education estimated that “statewide cost savings for school districts utilizing Google Apps for Education is approximately $1.5 million a year for email. School districts could also realize cost savings in reduced hardware and software upgrades.” (http://www.ode.state.or.us/news/announcements/announcement.aspx?=5724)

      Moving services to the cloud may not work in many cases, but organizations that can do so can see some substantial cost savings. This can be especially true for complex and expensive to maintain in-house applications, which can be prime candidates for moving to the cloud. In a previous installment of Business Technology Perspectives I used the example of Penton Media’s legacy in-house email newsletter tool (InstantDoc ID 129285) which was replaced by a cloud-based solution from an external vendor. Every organization is different, but I’m sure most IT departments have at least one or two headache applications they’d love to replace with a more efficient, less costly cloud equivalent.

 

IT Training

Perhaps the greatest investment any IT manager or business decision maker can make is to invest in training the IT staff they already have. Identifying what applications and services can be virtualized or outsourced to the cloud takes a unique combination of technical skill and business savvy, two traits that are always in demand by IT departments.

      Do you have any advice for IT departments looking to adopt the latest and most cost-effective IT solutions? Have you already embraced virtualization and cloud computing in a big way in your own organization? Send your tips, advice, and suggestions to me via email at jeff.james@penton.com, and/or follow me on Twitter @jeffjames3.