Enterprise workloads are moving to the cloud at a steady pace, and there is little doubt that before too long most infrastructure will reside primarily off-premises. But does this mean the local data center is doomed?
In a way, yes, but that doesn’t mean organizations will have zero server and storage capabilities on-premises. Rather, it means that whatever does remain will be much smaller and much less obtrusive than today’s spacious, rack-filled rooms, and it will require less hands-on maintenance and operational expertise.
First, some numbers. According to the Uptime Institute, half of senior enterprise executives now believe the majority of production workloads will reside in the cloud or at colocation facilities by 2020. One of the leading drivers is the need for agility in both developmental and operational capabilities as organizations transition to app-driven, digital-facing business models – something that legacy data centers cannot provide without a series of costly upgrades. At the same time, these forces are leading to increased automation of the data environment, which is more readily available in the cloud than at home.
This is leading many cloud providers, such as AWS CEO Andy Jassy, to predict the end of the enterprise data center, although the final nail in the coffin might not arrive for several decades. Speaking at the AWS Summit in Washington, D.C., recently, Jassy brought up examples like the Financial Services Regulatory Authority and Philips HealthSuite, both of which have massive data requirements that can only be addressed through the broad scalability of the cloud. As the average enterprise starts to embrace Big Data and the IoT, it too will have to accommodate similar loads with scale-out resources, and it simply makes economic sense to do this in the cloud. At the same time, the cloud provides for much greater democratization of resources, meaning everyone in the organization has access to what they need to complete their tasks, making the entire organization much more productive.
And as new virtual architectures infiltrate the enterprise, expect the cloud to become a more integrated element in the broader data ecosystem. Microsoft Azure, for instance, now supports the Docker Datacenter platform, making it easier to move container-based workloads across hybrid infrastructure. This has the twin effect of enabling high portability and resource utilization for highly dynamic workloads and allowing the entire environment to be hosted behind the corporate firewall – effectively negating two of the main barriers to more extensive cloud deployments.
This does not bode well for the enterprise data center, but it doesn’t mean organizations will not retain some infrastructure for themselves going forward. Rather, whatever remains is likely to be hyperconverged and modular to the extent that it will represent very low capital and operational costs and virtually none of the complexity that exists in the data center today. Indeed, as HPE and others are quick to point out, hyperconvergence can put the power of an entire data center in a few square feet of office space, and should a particular unit fail, replacing it is not much more difficult than changing the ink cartridge on the printer. Naturally, this kind of set-up will be reserved for the most critical data, but as an easy-to-use, broadly scalable platform, hyperconverged infrastructure can deliver a high value proposition to most organizations even as the bulk of their data is heading toward the cloud. (Disclosure: I produce content services to HPE.)
So at the end of this transition, the cloud will become synonymous with data infrastructure and resources will be distributed as a utility rather than as locally controlled assets. But some hardware will remain in the office, and it will be dramatically more powerful and utilitarian than what the enterprise has today.
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 and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.