It seems that the consensus for the overarching theme in data infrastructure development this year is the hybrid cloud. And while it is always helpful to have a goal when embarking on a venture such as the complete remake of the data center, in this case the goal seems a bit, well, cloudier than usual.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the enterprise industry is not poised to launch one cloud architecture, but many, so even when the end-game has been distilled to some sort of hybrid infrastructure, that still leaves plenty of leeway to get all kinds of things wrong.
Lief Morin, president of Key Information Systems, correctly notes that one size most certainly does not fit all when it comes to hybrid infrastructure, so the only way to determine the correct approach is to account for everything from legacy infrastructure and application environments to future business needs and competitive environments. That is a tall order, however, and will almost invariably lead the enterprise into a morass of conflicting requirements and changing outlooks as individuals and business units seek to harness the change management strategy to suit their own ends. The process of simply evaluating your needs is also likely to be a lengthy one, and with the data universe quickly moving to a collaborative, cloud-based footing, time is definitely not on your side.
One way to look at it is to dispense with the notion of the hybrid cloud and embrace the hybrid data center, says BlueStripe COO Vic Nyman. It is a subtle change of perspective but it helps to focus attention on the fact that the cloud is a secondary consideration to the need to craft real-world solutions to existing challenges. As well, a hybrid data center strategy should make it clear that changes will be required along the entire data stack, including the application layer, which will need to embrace the challenges and opportunities of a distributed data environment. Applications that function well on both internal and external resources afford the kind of control that allows even critical data to spread across disparate infrastructure – and then before you know it, you have a hybrid data center.
This will not happen without a management infrastructure capable of looking past simple infrastructure directly onto the application layer, says Don Boxley, CEO of database management firm DH2i. Not only does this allow the application workload to define its own data environment, rather than the other way around, it also enhances workload portability, improves SLA performance and boosts lifecycle management both for the application and underlying infrastructure. At the same time, you gain greater resilience in the face of system failures and major disasters because applications and data are no longer tied to a specific set of hardware.
Probably the best development this year regarding hybrid infrastructure is the realization on the part of public cloud providers that they have a stake in the transition as well. After all, half a pie is better than none, and if top providers like Microsoft and Amazon gain additional workloads via hybrid integration, so much the better. According to a recent survey from Infonetics, 82 percent of service providers are on track to offer hybrid cloud services within the year. A key component in this strategy is upping the security and compliance capabilities of their data centers to assure the world that they are adept at handling critical workloads. With so-called Cloud as a Service (CaaS) platforms at the ready, providers are hoping to enable fully integrated, distributed capabilities to enterprise customers that essentially provide native extensions to homegrown data environments.
Indeed, the key concern that most enterprises have over public resources is not just security and availability but also control. The ideal situation is one in which an integrated management stack holds sway over the entire data ecosystem no matter where it ends up, enabling clear visibility into the application stack and, where necessary, the underlying infrastructure. Many enterprises are still struggling to implement this digital nirvana within their own data centers, so it is an understatement to say that challenges abound when attempting to extend it over the wide area.
Of course, it will be the rare enterprise that flawlessly executes an end-to-end hybrid cloud strategy, so as long as every mistake is a lesson learned, the hybrid environment should prove resilient in the face of rapidly changing data requirements.
In the end, it is important to remember that building the hybrid cloud is not as important as building the dynamic architecture to meet application needs, both now and in the future.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.