There’s been a ton of discussion about the delivery of software applications as subscription services over the internet. The software-as-a-service, or SaaS, model is pretty easy for people to understand – most everyone these days uses a browser to tap into web services of one sort or another – and the spread of the idea has benefited greatly from the charisma of promoters like Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff.
Much less discussed has been the idea of buying IT hardware – or even an entire data center – as a pay-as-you-go subscription service that scales up or down to meet your needs. But as a result of rapid advances in hardware virtualization, IT automation, and usage metering and pricing, I think the concept of hardware-as-a-service – let’s call it HaaS – may at last be ready for prime time.
Last year, I had the chance to visit Savvis Inc. in St. Louis for a demonstration of what it calls its “virtualized IT utility services platform.” In essence, Savvis has built a fully virtualized IT architecture based on sophisticated Egenera servers and 3PAR storage systems, and it’s renting it out “by the slice” to companies. Hardware is deployed automatically, and almost immediately, in response to shifts in a company’s needs, usage is metered continuously, and it’s all reflected in a monthly utility bill. Savvis was already referring to its offering as “hardware-as-a-service.” (That was the first time I heard the phrase, though I was recently reminded of it by a post at Vinnie Mirchandani’s blog.)
Today, I noticed an announcement that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has signed up to use Savvis’s HaaS service for the next five years. You can see why such a service would be attractive to an organization like the FEC. Its computing requirements vary widely, shooting way up during election years, and for it to build its own infrastructure to meet peaks in demand would be extremely wasteful. The hardware capacity would lie dormant most of the time.
Oranizations with highly variable computing demands will likely be the first to embrace the HaaS model, but given the extremely low levels of capacity utilization in most corporate data centers, it may become an attractive option for a lot of mainstream organizations as well.