To many, the data center is still the heart of the enterprise, responsible for pushing vital digital nutrients to an increasingly diverse organism. To others, it is more like an anchor, weighing down what would otherwise be a nimble craft as it trawls the data sea in search of treasure.
Both camps recognize the dramatic changes that are taking place within and outside data center infrastructure, but they come to radically different conclusions as to what they mean and what is the best way for the enterprise to engage the next-generation data environment.
According to 451 Research, 87 percent of those with O&O data centers in North America and Europe plan on maintaining or even increasing their facilities in the coming year, with a quarter of those set to increase spending within the next three months. The spread covered medium-sized and large organizations, particularly in the health care and finance industries, which is a strong indication that if any group is liable to shed direct control of data infrastructure, it is the SMB market, which has relatively little infrastructure to begin with.
At the same time, it seems clear that software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) will most certainly propel the disaggregation of the data center within a very short timeframe. As Network World’s Jim Duffy notes, white-box networking solutions are hitting the channel and carrier providers are offering the ability to lift wide area network infrastructure onto the virtual plane, so there is nothing to stop organizations from abstracting entire data stacks and then fostering them wherever it makes the most sense. Not only does this lower costs compared to on-site data infrastructure, but it provides more flexibility, offers greater scale, and is more conducive to the kinds of applications and services that will increasingly define business models in the emerging digital economy.
This idea of data center fungibility is further enhanced by the rise of data center operating systems like Mesosphere’s DCOS platform. By integrating compute, storage and networking capabilities into a single, automated management paradigm, the system effectively turns the data center into one large computer, which can then be networked to similar data center/computers elsewhere to form a broadly distributed computing ecosystem. Coupled with the carrier NFV capabilities mentioned above, the entire data environment simply shifts upward on a geographic viewpoint, with servers and storage now acting as chips and RAM/disk memory, local area networking acting as the interconnect, and wide area services becoming the new LAN.
Under this view, the enterprise will be no more willing to part with its own compute resources (storage maybe, but not compute), any more than ordinary users will remove the chips from their phones or tablets and push all app processing to the web. Even as technologies like Windows Server 2003 wind down, organizations are still likely to continue using it until 2018 when, presumably, the new 2012 version will simply step in, says solutions provider CloudPhysics. Windows Server 2012 and subsequent releases will probably increase ties to the Azure cloud, but they will nonetheless reside in the enterprise data center or colo facility. If Microsoft ever were to stop selling server operating systems to the enterprise, that would be an era-ending event worthy of discussion.
The real question, then, is not whether the enterprise will shed its local data infrastructure, but will it continue to rely on this infrastructure as the primary set of data resources? I think the answer is undoubtedly “no,” but only because the applications and services that reside on that infrastructure will lose their status as the preferred means of fostering productivity and implementing new business models—not because the infrastructure itself has suddenly lost its value.
The very nature of data, applications, resources and the enterprise itself is transforming into something very weird, from today’s perspective at least, but still wonderful in the way it propels new capabilities that even the experts could not have foreseen. Today’s infrastructure will be worthy of TLC for some time to come, but it will have to share an ever-larger portion of the enterprise budget with the emergent side of the house.
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.