The data center has been the foundation of enterprise IT operations since the dawn of the computer age, so it is understandable that there is a lot of uncertainty now that it is undergoing the most monumental change in its history.
Indeed, many executives are still trying to wrap their heads around the idea of having no data center at all, or at best a rack or two of modular boxes devoted to maintaining access to external applications and resources.
But those who have been to the mountaintop say that the other side is indeed a lush, green valley in which advanced services and capabilities can be had at low cost and with little effort, and that the flexibility that comes from shedding fixed hardware assets more than makes up for the loss of direct control over infrastructure. The key, though, is to first realize that the new data environment does not serve the same purpose as the old, and then to learn how to leverage that app-centric, service-based environment for your business model.
One eye-opening case study is DrillingInfo, says Enterprise Tech’s Alison Diana. The company specializes in data compilation and analysis for the oil and gas drilling industries. Even after consolidation and the introduction of SaaS applications, its legacy data center was struggling under the petabytes being generated to give clients the information they need to make sound decisions. So rather than simply pour more money into IT, the company created a start-up to beat the parent company at its own game. By leveraging cloud services and agile dev/ops more fully, the company was able to provide more thorough, up-to-date information to clients with faster turnaround and at lower cost.
This is likely to play out across a range of data-driven enterprises, says Dimension Data’s Damian Hamilton. Technology may be changing, but many IT-related functions such as digital marketing, transactional processing and analytics remain the same. In the cloud, these functions can not only be streamlined, but enhanced to meet the new mobile, collaborative style of work that has been embraced by the new generation of knowledge workers. Industries like finance will likely see significant benefits as new agile, distributed architectures support advanced applications like cashless payments and social media-driven fundraising and portfolio management.
And what of the infrastructure that does remain in the enterprise? It probably won’t be much, and it certainly won’t require an army of highly paid technicians to monitor and maintain. A company called Scale Computing, for example, is out with a hyperconverged appliance aimed at delivering just the right amount of IT to small businesses. The downside is that IT has to get used to a new way of functioning, such as integrated LAN/WAN connectivity and utilization of the KVM hypervisor rather than the more common VMware or Hyper-V. But ultimately, it provides a more simplified infrastructure that is ready-made for advanced service initiatives like software-defined networking.
It is important to note that even as services and applications are moved to the cloud, complexity is still a problem. A start-up called ScaleFT (Scale for Teams) is taking a bead on the fact that projects tend to get bogged down as the number and diversity of resources scale up in the cloud. The company has released an authentication system called Scale Access to ensure workflow security across multiple cloud-based tools, and is close to finishing related products that target server usage analysis and optimization. The system is cloud-agnostic, so it can easily work with leading providers like AWS, Google, Microsoft, Rackspace and OpenStack.
All of this is leading to a fundamental choice for enterprise executives: Do you want to leverage the cloud in support of your current data operations, or are you willing to disrupt your current practices, or even your business model, to embrace what the new IT has to offer?
The answer to this question will determine more than anything the direction of your cloud deployment strategy and the time, money and effort you give to your legacy data 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.