This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Ken Kremer, Chief Technical Officer, Data Center Strategy at Involta
The cloud as the data center’s demise is a hypothetical assertion that technology and telecom are no stranger to. It’s an attention-grabbing claim that seems to underscore the massive migration to the cloud that has characterized much of the digital landscape in recent years. The popularity of cloud computing can’t be denied — one survey of more than 500 technology decision-makers reveals that 81 percent of the surveyed companies already made use of at least one cloud application or relied on some cloud infrastructure. However, despite its widespread adoption, is there any truth to the claim that cloud may replace the data center as we know it?
In reality, the cloud isn’t truly an ephemeral fix-all or a superterrestrial IT solution that has somehow managed to shed the need for physical form. It’s simply a platform for data and applications to work from that brings its own strengths — and its own weaknesses — to enterprise digital transformation. With this in mind, how can we more accurately understand the relationship between the cloud and data centers, as well as the implications of both on providers and enterprises alike?
The New IT Narrative
Understanding the conversation around cloud and data centers begins by acknowledging that the cloud, at its core, is a data center — or rather, a number of them. The cloud is an array of remote data centers (not on customer premises) that allow businesses to leverage the internet for their data and applications. Of course, most don’t really believe that the cloud is, in fact, a cloud — so why has this discussion about the death of the data center grown so exponentially? It may be because users mistakenly see the cloud as the ideal solution for all their digital transformation goals.
Boasting cost savings, flexibility, scalability and more, the cloud has made a name for itself as the final frontier of data. Furthermore, businesses are attracted to the idea of averting the complex discussions around operational costs and capital expenses that data centers may create. Still, while the cloud does offer an array of benefits, it can also hinder transformation if used incorrectly. Truly realizing the benefits of the cloud takes a more discerning approach.
As we look toward the future of diversifying applications and increased data ingestion, it may be time to acknowledge that while the cloud is redefining the IT landscape, it is not replacing the data center. Instead, it’s changing the way the data center is consumed and transforming its role in IT frameworks.
What’s the Cloud’s Real Role?
When we consider the practicality of the cloud for an array of applications, we start to see how this idea of cloud replacing the data center may be obscuring some users’ better judgement. Organizations want to leverage environments that provide the most effectiveness and benefit for their applications through scale, access, speed and more. It can be a complex task no matter what platform the enterprise wishes to use, but cloud adoption can be especially challenging. The result is often a migration that isn’t accomplished to plan. Cloud repatriation — a return back out of the cloud after moving data and workloads in — is now a reality for many businesses that were unable to fulfill their business goals.
Looking past the cloud craze and beginning to understand its place in the modern data framework, we realize that what’s missing in this conversation is application rationalization. Enterprises can be so quick to incorporate cloud that they aren’t weighing its value versus its weaknesses on a case-by-case basis and allocating workloads accordingly. Yes, the cloud offers advantageous scalability, ease of use and reach, but due diligence reveals that it’s not the right place for all data to reside.
Latency-sensitive applications may suffer from the cloud’s added distance from the end user, and sensitive data may be better suited to a private hosting environment where it can be secured, monitored and controlled more meticulously. Furthermore, as innovative 5G, IoT and edge capabilities develop, local and micro data centers will likely become a vital element of digital footprints versus more centralized hyperscale cloud facilities. Overall, if individual workloads are not managed appropriately according to business goals, organizations may miss out on the benefits they came to the cloud for in the first place, or they may overlook the ways in which an alternative platform can better serve them.
It’s here that we see why the traditional data center will continue to be an asset to organizations. Each platform — public cloud, dedicated data center hosting or even an on-premises facility — delivers a unique set of advantages and drawbacks. No one platform alone delivers a comprehensive answer to any and all digital challenges. So, what does this mean for businesses and providers?
Hybrid Frameworks: An Exercise in Balance
As businesses continue on their individual digital transformations, taking a holistic view of all the different environments that can host different applications is crucial. Evolving IT frameworks will prove to be an ‘and’ equation, where organizations will build platforms that allow flexibility to run workloads where they belong.
What businesses need in the future won’t come down to the cloud versus the data center, it will come down to having a hybrid infrastructure core that spans a number of platforms, maximizing the benefits of each. As leaders look to build this successfully, enterprises may want to bring on an expert IT ally for added insight, which means providers need to know how to help. Data center and service providers must be prepared to be part of this conversation, guiding enterprises as they navigate the creation of their hybrid approach. Data center service providers must see their facilities as dynamic parts of a larger IT environment, and should understand how to support application rationalization across platforms. Every enterprise use case will be different, but knowing where the data center excels as opposed to the cloud — and vice versa — is key for trusted partnership. Being prepared for today’s and tomorrow’s IT demands also means being elastic enough in service offerings to allow for changing workloads as businesses require.
As it stands, infrastructure is a spectrum that businesses may move along dynamically as they — and their data — expand and change. In the end, pitting the cloud against the data center only hurts the consumer. As the future continues to evolve, so must our discussions around infrastructure and how it can be integrated to serve enterprises as they continue their journey into an increasingly digital environment.
Ken Kremer, Founder and Chief Technical Officer, uses a methodical and measured approach to his work that has been instrumental in the growth of Involta’s national data center footprint. As one of Involta’s co-founders, Ken’s consistent leadership in technical services and operations has enabled the company to expand its data center and managed services portfolio. Prior to Involta, Ken held leadership positions in high-tech companies focusing on operational efficiencies, innovative solution engineering and regulatory compliance issues. Ken’s career has been focused on data center operations and managed services since 1997. Ken seamlessly integrates people, processes and services to help Involta deliver on its promise of "People Who Deliver."
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