Remember when, two or three years ago, Gartner declared the death of load balancers? They said it was now all about the apps, and that it was time to focus on application delivery, the performance, availability, and security of web applications. This meant not just load balancing, but SSL offloading, encryption acceleration, global site load balancing, application firewalling and more.

Two or three years is a long time in “dog years,” but it’s an eternity in IT years, and it looks like it’s time to dig the next grave. Now the bell tolls for app delivery controllers.

The big difference is what’s causing the change this time. When load balancing pumped up on steroids and grew into app delivery, it was a change by IT and for IT. It said that what mattered wasn’t the web servers themselves, but rather, the web apps that passed through them. App delivery came about because with Internet data volumes more than doubling every year, the net became not just a distraction, but the global backbone for business. It became all about the apps, and the devices and networks and datacenters IT owned were in service of those apps. But it was a change that happened behind the scenes; the whole point was that it was invisible to users.

The latest changes are not only visible to users, but driven by them. They’re a big challenge to IT, maybe even a threat to IT organizations’ survival. How they answer the challenge could determine their relevance.

The forces that are rewriting the rules today are driven by users. And they threaten not to add to the role of IT, but to strip it down and rebuild it — or destroy it. Look at what happened when the Internet came on the scene for businesses. The best IT teams figured out how to embrace and accelerate change, and they made their users and their lines of business more successful. And the worst of them stood in the middle of the road, and their users passed right by them until IT became irrelevant. Or worse, IT succeeded at holding back the tide until the business itself died of irrelevancy.

The technology shifts that supported the Internet business revolution — the virtualization of the datacenter, the optimization of capacity and IT processes — were all about IT delivering the best experience based on the devices it put in users’ hands and maintained, the datacenters it built out and operated, and the apps it procured and configured. IT has been an “ownership economy.”

But users, and lines of business, are no longer willing to settle for “have it IT’s way” IT – in every way, they are demanding “have it MY way” IT.

Change is now driven by:
Consumerization — changing not only how users do their jobs, but their relationship to IT
• The advent of Cloud Computing — redefining how and where apps and information are delivered

Years ago, users started refusing to “geek out” by carrying twin warts on their belts, the work phone and the personal phone. They wanted to choose their own weapon, and have it access corporate email and directories as if it were a corporate phone, with IT worrying about security and remote access, and still store their music and movies, and play Angry Birds, on it. Now that change is happening for primary devices — no more personal laptop with iTunes and games next to the corporate laptop with Office and VPN access.

Anyone who has been to the recent South by Southwest SXSW conference can attest to this – or even the flight ride over. A year or two ago, many a tray table would be covered with a corporate-owned laptop, legal notepads and all. This time, though, over half the people had iPads or other tablets out, and some of the others used only their smartphones. Even among the laptop users, there was enough variety, including netbooks, MacBook Airs, and other machines that were clearly personal choices. It was obvious that BYO was the order of the day.

Who owns the apps and where they run is also a big change. On the personal side, people started installing traditional apps less and less on their personal machines, and using micro apps and web services more and more. Very few people use email clients for personal email any more — they’re mostly web-based or more often these days, leverage the specific mobile micro app for that particular mobile device. The same goes for many games, videos, and more — goodbye downloads, hello Hulu. Lines of business got in the act too — goodbye Siebel and MeetingPlace, hello Salesforce and GoToMeeting. And now, the trend is to crossover of personal and business cloud apps — people want to use the same cloud-based services for work that they do for play.

My own team is a good example of this. We’ve been building and reviewing slides, scripts and white papers for an upcoming announcement— you’re probably not surprised that this is all leading to something, right? A couple of years ago, we would have been emailing stuff all over the place. If we got truly organized, we’d have set up a Sharepoint portal, and used its version control. But that would have meant dealing with VPN issues, browser restrictions… Now we’re using the same cloud storage provider I use to back up my smartphone photos, sharing access to a folder, and reviewing and marking things up not only on our computers but on our tablets and phones, wherever we happen to be.

Consumerization and the cloud are forcing IT to get out of the business of owning things, and into the trickier role of assuring things.

Instead of owning and delivering apps and devices, IT can only succeed if it guarantees the performance and availability and security of services and information — no matter who owns the devices, the datacenters, the networks, or the apps themselves. And for IT to accelerate the move to service delivery and use it to make the business succeed, the network and the datacenter need to change. They need to support not just app delivery — delivery of corporate apps to corporate devices — but services delivery — delivery of service levels for access to corporate apps, cloud apps, and data from any location to any location and any device

…. and ADCs which are positioned as the “gatekeepers” to apps need to accordingly evolve to support this transformation. They are the best choices given their native app intelligence and location. Else, some other elements (such as existing middleware solutions or a smarter L3-4 network) will emerge to take over this charter and disrupt the incumbency of ADCs.

Next week, Citrix will announce a ground breaking new fabric to support the above evolution from application delivery to service delivery – more on that soon.