Evergreen IT refers to running services comprised of components that are always up to date. Evergreen IT encompasses not only the services at the user level, but all of the underlying infrastructure, whether onsite or outsourced. Many organizations believe that evergreen IT holds promise for reducing the resources and energy they need to expend on providing the up-to-date and flexible services that their users are demanding.
This article, based on the experience and observations of Microsoft Enterprise Architects, explores the nature of evergreen IT and what it requires of IT systems, as well as the challenges that IT organizations face in pursuing the most common types of evergreen IT solutions.
The following contributors provided input: Johan Klut, Larry Hanthorn, Mary Lynn Pontier, Peter Deane, Robbi Laurenson, Sree Sundaram, and Stephen Kell.
Companies like the idea of offering applications that are always up-to-date or that can change quickly in response to business needs. Companies also seek to provide this flexibility while reducing the time and expense required to do so.
However, most companies find these goals next to impossible to reach using their current systems, technology, and management approaches. As systems have become increasingly complex, the amount of effort and expense needed to maintain them has increased, and the prospect of making changes to them has become daunting. Businesses may have to change their IT strategies and infrastructure to pursue evergreen IT.
The In-House Approach
For IT organizations that want to keep all of their systems in-house, converting to evergreen IT is similar to modernizing their data centers:
- Using virtualization to improve flexibility and abstract dependencies such as those between the application and hardware layers. Virtualization is especially important for dealing with legacy applications.
- Using automation, orchestration, and modeling technologies to take over low-level management tasks, freeing resources to focus more on providing value to the business.
- Changing the way in which the IT organization meets business needs. Providing new services becomes more a matter of configuring resources than of building new systems.
The Evergreen Service Approach
Many companies aren't interested in an extensive overhaul of their IT systems. As a more economical solution, many companies conclude that the best way to control the burden of updates and restore flexibility to their systems is to replace some of them with cloud-based evergreen services.
However, simply subscribing to an evergreen service does not make an IT organization evergreen. In order to get the full value out of an evergreen service, the IT organization still needs to modify its systems and strategies to become at least partly evergreen itself. Integrating with an evergreen service impacts at least the following areas:
- Existing systems, which need to remain compatible with a service that updates frequently.
- The service management model, where processes and procedures must accommodate a service that exists outside the company boundaries and beyond direct control of the IT organization.
- The IT organization itself, which faces new issues and needs to ensure that the service continues to meet the needs of the business.
Adapting Existing Systems to Work with an Evergreen Service
Subscribing to an evergreen service is only one step toward providing users with an evergreen experience. The IT organization needs to make sure that its applications and their supporting infrastructure are compatible with the service, and—most importantly—that it can maintain that compatibility as the provider updates the service.
For example, some companies have published APIs to facilitate business-to-business integration with both their suppliers and customers. Their IT organizations now have to think of themselves as service providers, and provide versioning support and backward compatibility for the API customers. These IT organizations need to be sure that an updating service won't disrupt these APIs.
Smaller companies typically find it easier to adapt their IT organizations and technology to evergreen IT. For example, multiple standardized but configurable systems are easier to update than multiple custom one-off systems. But standardizing systems is easier to accomplish for smaller organizations than for larger organizations that may be burdened by accumulated legacy systems.
Adapting the Service Management Model to Include the Evergreen Service
The IT organization's operations and management processes need to account for and respond to factors that originate outside the company—outside of the traditional IT domain. These impacts can affect many different areas of operations and management, some obvious and some less so. Issues that the IT organization may need to deal with include:
How should the change management processes accommodate the evergreen service?
An IT organization that is mature enough to successfully integrate an outsourced service typically uses a change management system to log all change proposals and approvals for the managed systems. However, an evergreen service provider is unlikely to send its frequent updates through each customer's change management process. The IT organization needs to confirm what kind of communications or notifications the provider can supply.
How should the incident management processes accommodate the evergreen service?
If there is an interruption in service, incident management processes need to trigger immediate remedial action as well as appropriate communication between the business and the service provider to help resolve the issue. Microsoft, for example, is helping businesses using Office 365 to adjust their incident management processes.
What privacy and data security standards must be applied to this service?
In a general sense, using a cloud-based evergreen service means treating the internet as part of the business network and the business network as part of the internet. The IT organization must ensure that the data processed, communicated, or stored by the service is appropriately protected. In addition, the IT organization must ensure that integrating the service into its systems does not introduce vulnerabilities or possible avenues of attack.
How does the company's regulatory environment affect the way it can use the service?
Regulations may restrict how a business can use a cloud-based service. For example, some countries require that companies store certain types of data onsite, and not in the cloud. In other cases, regulations may restrict the ways in which the IT organization can integrate the service into its systems.
How do budgets need to shift to accommodate the evergreen service?
Typically, subscribing to an evergreen service reduces a company’s capital spending on IT, while increasing its operational (service) spending. Depending on the magnitude of the service costs involved, such a change may take a full budget cycle to implement. In addition, implementing the service may incur substantial one-time costs for training, communication, and change management. In the long term, the business may have to adjust its budget cycle to accommodate the evergreen service billing schedule.
Does the IT organization's Help desk need to support the evergreen service, or does the service provider include support?
What legal issues may arise from using the service?
Adapting the IT Organization to Help the Business Use the Evergreen Service
Although the IT organization may not need to maintain as many systems as before, it needs to keep the remaining systems coordinated with a constantly changing evergreen service.
To do this, the IT organization needs to improve its agility and efficiency. Many companies have built their IT organizations around the need to design, build, and run large-scale services—projects that can span years. Adapting to an environment where services may update every few weeks or months—with updated content under the control of an external provider—can be challenging, especially for large IT organizations.
The IT organization needs to maintain a close relationship with the business units and other customers it supports. As the evergreen service changes, the IT organization needs to communicate any potential disruptions to the business units, and provide information about new or changed features. In addition, the IT organization needs to understand the needs of the business units and make sure that the service is meeting those needs.
IT organizations can pursue evergreen IT as a means to improve the level of service to the business while controlling costs. To get the full value out of evergreen IT, the IT organization needs to do more than just subscribe to a cloud-based evergreen service: Effectively using that service may mean changing existing systems, revising management processes, and changing the way the IT organization interacts with the business it serves.