It appears that cloud computing is freeing big business from a number of costs and time constraints, but don’t expect it to release enterprises from the in-house data center altogether. “Future datacenters may reside in the same category as mainframes today: not obsolete, just monolithic,” says Omid Rahmat, CEO of ELC Technologies, a global mobile, cloud, and web developer.
There’s a lot of talk about how the cloud is going to storm the corporate world and decimate on-premise datacenters – even push them into extinction. Not now, the experts say, but someday soon. Could that claim really be true?
“For some, a datacenter is what you would expect. Yet for other organisations what they call a datacenter, others would call a server room, or perhaps even a cupboard with computers in it,” says Joe Baguley, chief technologist (EMEA) at Quest Software. “There will always be some element of local compute at organisations, and its nature will depend on varying factors across industries.”
For security and legal reasons, many companies will maintain a datacenter of some kind, at least for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean you’ll recognize it next time you take a company tour. “Cloud computing is not extinction but the next evolution of data center designs and management,” says Mark Popolano, senior advisor at Kurt Salmon, a global consulting firm.
Data Center Evolution
Data centers are already in consolidation mode. Hardware is becoming smaller and more efficient and virtualization is adding oomph to that mix. Internal datacenters will shrink as companies move non-essential data within the cloud. Internal datacenters may still be necessary to store sensitive data.
However, data centers supporting cloud computing are growing. In effect, there has been no reduction in datacenters, really; it’s merely a reallocation of resources. In the end, say IT professionals, most companies will end up with hybrid systems. "The ongoing shift to the utility model for delivering IT services will see the cloud and private data centers coexist, with the focus on how best to have them operate seamlessly rather than displacing one for the other,” says Jack O'Brien, vice president of marketing at Gluster, an open-source, scale-out storage platform provider.
Indeed, any attempt at reducing the collective size of datacenters is a self-defeating exercise. “To imply that data centres will be eradicated promotes the confusion that currently surrounds the term cloud,” explains David Ebsworth, COO of UK-based Oncore IT, a specialist provider of cloud backup services, disaster recovery, and business continuity. “If businesses expect the cloud to be safe, secure, reliable, and scalable, removing data centres will actually do the opposite and make the cloud a dangerous place.”
While the on-premise datacenter is here to stay, we may eventually be hard pressed to find the line between it and the cloud. “Over the next 5-10 years the term cloud will expand to cover the pool of resources that an enterprise can tap into, regardless of whether the resources are physically owned,” predicts O’Brien. “And nobody will care because users, applications, and data will not be tied to a physical device or location."
One of the most striking upcoming changes in datacenters we’ll soon see is in the difference in how they are viewed by IT. “First, security concerns are never going to go away no matter what happens in the cloud, so we need to start thinking of data fortresses and not data centers,” says Rahmat. “Second, the cloud makes data more valuable so we have to start thinking of data warehouses and not datacenters.”
Perhaps, then, even the name will change – leaving the corporate world with a datacenter so evolved it may feel as though its predecessor went extinct.
Patching the Breaks in Economies of Scale
Cloud computing is built on the principle of economies of scale but, unbeknownst to some, there is a limit to that scalability. “Economies of scale begin to break down once you reach a certain size,” explains Nathan McNeill, co-founder and vice president of product strategy at Bomgar, an enterprise remote support company. For example, it becomes difficult for Amazon to manage a datacenter built to support a million users more efficiently per user than GE’s data center built to support 100K users. “At some point, you start having to build in extra stuff (people, servers, software, etc.) to support additional scale, and that adds overhead to the model,” he says.
“It’s like with a company,” adds McNeill. “Scale helps big companies compete more aggressively, but it also slows them down.” Agility, then, is best accomplished with a hybrid datacenter that can leverage the pros of both cloud and on-premise datacenters while side-stepping the cons of each.
Laws, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (Sarbox or Sox) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the U.S., will likely ground some data. That may make economies of scale in the cloud less obtainable and effectively mandating an on-premise datacenter. Further, some businesses see certain applications and the associated data as business-critical or commercially sensitive and will want to keep control in-house rather than handing over responsibility to a third party. “These types of applications will probably continue to be managed by in-house data centres. With the rise in cloud-based approaches to application-hosting, ensuring applications can communicate to the cloud systems is essential,” says Rob Neave, co-founder and vice president of Sustainable IT initiatives at nlyte Software, a data center infrastructure management company.
On the flipside, companies with small datacenters already will likely find benefit in moving exclusively to the cloud. “As a rule of thumb, the tipping point is typically 1,000 physical servers or up to 20,000 virtual machines,” says Kate Craig-Wood, managing director of UK-based web host and cloud service provider, Memset. “Organisations with less should seriously question why they are keeping their data centre."