The public cloud wants your data center – all of it, by the sound of things.
High-profile providers like Amazon and Google have made no secret of the fact that the enterprise market is the next big cash cow for the still-nascent cloud industry, and they are pouring resources into enterprise-class architectures even as they cut prices to the bone. But just because they are selling, does that mean the enterprise has to buy?
One thing seems clear: the cloud wars taking place today are between the various public providers and also between the numerous private platform developers that are springing up – not between the two groups. So the notion that the public cloud will “win the cloud war” is not accurate. How, exactly, will one technology or platform “win” the war? When all other technologies are rendered obsolete? That happens from time to time, but not very often. Heck, some enterprises are still quite fond of their tape drives.
Clearly, though, enterprise use of the cloud is increasing, although this is not necessarily due to a conscious decision by industry leaders. The problem of rogue clouds and shadow IT has been well-documented, and this has prompted many organizations to kick the conversion of internal infrastructure to a more cloud-like footing into high gear. The question is, can this conversion be accomplished in a timely fashion? Already, many public cloud services are transitioning from basic storage to far more lucrative performance and productivity applications, but it is still unclear whether they can provide the kind of functionality the organizations have built into their own architectures.
A key issue is connectivity. A simple Internet connection may work for low-level batch jobs and the like, but it provides neither the speed nor the security for higher-order functions. This is why providers like QTS are devising advanced network solutions that offer the bandwidth scalability, redundancy and continuity that enterprise operations demand. Note, however, that these kinds of services are not intended to pull infrastructure onto the cloud as much as to provide integration with legacy systems and architectures. In this way, providers can offer a single pane of glass management interface that allows these new hybrid infrastructures to appear as one overarching data environment.
Even at this level of functionality, is it realistic to expect enterprises to place mission-critical applications like inventory management and billing on the cloud? As McCain Foods’ Roman Coba described it to the Wall Street Journal, this would be like undergoing a full heart transplant – certainly possible, but very risky. In many cases, enterprises have customized their critical applications to such an extent that migrating them to the cloud is a non-starter. At best, we can expect certain pieces to make the move – and even then, only with broad cooperation from either the vendor, the distributor or both – but critical functions will remain in-house. An example of this would be an on-premises billing system supplemented by cloud components to handle account management and human resource needs.
To hear cloud titans like Jeff Bezos explain it, nothing less than the all-cloud data center will suffice for the future enterprise. But if that is the endgame, the war for enterprise infrastructure will have to be waged over more than just price. Even $0.00/GB will only go so far if the actual service does not equal the performance and functionality that organizations enjoy now.
The smart money, then, is not on those who can do the cloud cheaply, but those who can tightly integrate their platforms and services with legacy enterprise infrastructure.
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.