I've seen many presentations and talks from companies that are using cloud services to replace traditional IT infrastructures and lower their costs. Often these presentations are from smaller companies that don't want to hire an IT administrator, or buy server or learn how to host and manage that hardware. Plenty of small companies would prefer that each employee manage their own laptop and nothing more.
However many of those strategies don't match the situation for large companies. Once you've hired an IT staff and made an investment in hardware and facilities, can the cloud really help you? I had my doubts, but this article about Toyota makes me rethink those doubts, or at least many of them.
The lesson from the article, for me, is that Toyota's IT group is learning to be a lean part of the business; they are building applications and tools that internal employees and customers can use to work better. They're not acting as a separate business that needs to build software and also manage and administer the platforms that run those applications. By building software for Toyota and its customers, and outsourcing other functions, the Toyota IT group is more focused.
Will this work in the long term? Will there be security issues from hosting email and other applications? Possibly, but I'm not sure if the problems and issues they encounter will be any worse than those problems that might come from managing all the hardware themselves.
I still think the idea of container data centers, running cloud platform software, makes sense for large companies, but I suspect that even if they host an application like Salesforce.com, the administration of the software will come from Salesforce and not internal IT server administrators.
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