How weird will the enterprise become in the cloud? Pretty weird, by the sound of some of the discussions taking place today.
We all know that the cloud will be extremely disruptive for existing data infrastructure. Concepts like the all-virtual, all-cloud data center were considered distant possibilities just a few short years ago, but now seem to be looming on the horizon as organizations seek to cut costs and increase data agility.
But even these notions of an ethereal data environment floating around the cybersphere are starting to look quaint compared to the ideas that some forward thinkers are coming up with now.
Take, for example, IO CEO George Slessman’s recent presentation at the Open Compute Project Summit last week, which he delivered via his cell phone. In it, he described the data center as an API in which software-based infrastructure is provisioned, deployed and decommissioned at the drop of a hat, tailored almost exclusively to the needs of the moment. To prove his point, he showed how to set up a fully functioning virtual instance, again from his phone, using physical resources located miles away—all in about three minutes. Clearly, the provider who maintains this physical infrastructure will have to worry about hardware/software integration, network configurations and the like, but the vast majority of knowledge workers will never see this side of things, nor will they understand a world in which the resources needed to do their jobs simply aren’t available.
For most users, of course, the idea of anything, anywhere, anytime is intriguing, but their day-to-day activities will most likely take place comfortably in a pre-defined environment. For that, Dell has devised the Dell Wyse Cloud Connect dongle, essentially a data center on a stick, which provides instant access to enterprise resources regardless of location. The device runs a specialized version of Android and allows users to tap into desktops, apps, data and network environments from virtually any client. The only requirement on the enterprise side is a Citrix, Microsoft or VMware virtual layer.
But perhaps the most troubling aspect of all this, at least for those who currently manage IT infrastructure, is that this weirdness will come about regardless of official policy. Indeed, many business units these days seem to be adopting the mantra “What IT doesn’t know won’t hurt them,” says MongoDB’s Matt Asay on ReadWrite. Recent surveys suggest that IT is currently underestimating the amount of cloud usage within their organizations by a factor of 10. This will force a shift in the way IT approaches data infrastructure—sooner rather than later. Instead of defining the rules by which data and resources are utilized, IT will have to figure out how to exist within the rules being set by users.
These kinds of “inflection points” come along about once a decade, says Venyu Solutions’ Brian Royer. The development of Ethernet in the early 1970s marked one such shift, as did the rise of the PC in the 1980s. The most interesting thing about the cloud, though, is not how it will reshape existing data infrastructure, but how it will lead to the rapid introduction of both infrastructure and services to the developing world. In places like India and Southeast Asia, where greenfield deployments are on the rise, infrastructure is being purpose-built for the cloud and entire generations will come of age in a world of limitless scalability and resource availability. Perhaps one day they will have trouble moving past the cloud in order to navigate the next inflection point, but in the meantime they will reap the rewards of a sleek, dynamic infrastructure that has little or no baggage left over from the static, silo-based past.
The weirdness of these burgeoning IT environments, then, is purely relative, and is only obvious to those who grew up in the client-server ecosystem. But what is weird today usually becomes normal tomorrow. The Beatles were weird at first, and now the surviving members are getting Lifetime Grammys. Elvis was also weird, even dangerous, and now he has his own stamp.
The changes taking place in enterprise infrastructure are happening because users are finding new, more efficient, more effective ways to utilize data resources. IT needs to find a way to normalize this weirdness, or it could find itself unable to cope with the new data reality.