It’s only a matter of time until the consumerization of IT bleeds over from your non-IT employees into your IT department. While this may sound far fetched, iPad like systems, such as appliances or workload optimized systems, are already finding a foothold in your IT datacenter, and it’s not about to stop.

Consumerization of IT is here to stay
As InfoWorld’s Galen Gruman explains, the consumerization of IT is in full force with employees choosing hardware and software that best meets their needs without regard for corporate IT standards. The trend started well before Salesforce.com, iPhones and iPads made their way into the enterprise, but these three technologies are important because they highlight the choices being made by employees. These choices are often markedly different from the choices an IT professional would tend to agree with when making corporate purchase decisions.

All three technologies offered fewer choices and were less open than the alternatives already in use within a given IT department. Terms like walled-gardens or lock-in were often associated with Salesforce.com, the iPhone and iPad in their early days of enterprise usage. In many respects, these concerns still apply. And yet, all three technologies have somehow found their way onto the corporate standard list. This doesn’t mean that these are the preferred technologies in every case, but they have a role to play within today’s modern IT department.

The value versus control spectrum
Consumerization of IT hits close to home for me. I started to type this post on my iPad and then later on my Macbook Air. I use both for work purposes at varying times, and both are my personal devices.

It occurred to me that in choosing an iPad and a Macbook Air I made choices that I’d never have expected making even 2 years ago.

For the better part of 15 years I’d purchased hardware and software that I could tinker with and had broad control over. However, the “it just works” nature of the iPad and performance, portability and yes, the aesthetics, of the Macbook Air became important decision factors.

By going to a Mac after years on a PC, most of my applications, tools and custom scripts stopped being useful. I have fewer choices of applications and much lower configurability on my Macbook Air and iPad. It wasn’t a painless transition. I still need to keep a Windows 7 and VMware Fusion license around as my tax program of choice only supports Windows.

However, the value I perceived from a simpler to use and better integrated system helped me get over my historical approach to IT systems and software. I highly doubt that I’m alone in this progression on the spectrum of control and configurability versus integrated system ease of use and performance.

Growing use of appliances and workload optimized systems in datacenters
The very same concerns I had when considering an iPad or Macbook Air are relevant for IT professionals tasked with doing more with less. The notion of giving up control and choice is often viewed in a negative light by IT professionals. But, when the value of a workload optimized system is considered, especially if it’s based on open standards, the attractiveness of these systems begin to outweigh the reduced control and configurability.

The very same professionals reading this blog and running countless IT departments are happily toting iPhones, iPads, Samsung Galaxy Tabs or Macbook Airs. The ease of use and performance at certain tasks that these integrated systems provide is bound to affect standard decision making in their IT roles.

Think about all the time and effort spent on building systems from piece parts, applying fixes and upgrades to individual pieces of the system. How much more valuable work could you do for your company if you didn’t spend hours or months on these tasks? How much time do you spend keeping your iPad up to date? Virtually no time at all.

This idea clicked for me a few months ago, and it’ll take hold with more and more IT professionals. Some will ignore the logical conclusions, while others will question whether their current approach to building, maintaining and upgrading systems is optimal for every situation. Note however, here is no reason to think that the growing use of workload optimized systems means the end of the custom built systems market. Both types of systems have a role to play in a modern datacenter.

For instance, appliances are already a growing part of the IT landscape. IT has long been comfortable with appliances for important, but non-differentiating layers of the IT stack, such as firewalls.

Customers are increasingly looking at appliances for higher value IT capability like business analytics. Oracle’s Exadata and IBM’s Netezza Twinfin are two appliances that have been growing by narrowing choice and configurability while optimizing for a particular task. In fact, Oracle made a point of highlighting the growth of Exadata as a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing quarter.

While we’re likely decades away from replacing your systems of choice with a big fat tablet device, the consumerization of IT will increase the willingness of IT professional to adopt appliance and appliance like systems in enterprise datacenters. Is your IT department ready for this shift?

should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.