Hardware, Software and the Future of Enterprise Infrastructure

    It’s a perennial question that keeps circling back to the IT industry as the rush of new technologies transforms long-standing data environments: Does infrastructure matter anymore?

    In the grandest of senses, infrastructure will always matter, of course. Regardless of how virtual or software-defined things become, at some point all data most occupy a physical component somewhere on this planet.

    But if we refine the question just a little, we come to Sigma Solutions Elias Khnaser’s most recent musings, which center not on whether infrastructure matters, but whether it will matter to enterprise IT for much longer. After he ticks off the latest developments to hit the data world – primarily the cloud, or more importantly, the increasing reliance that traditional infrastructure vendors are placing on cloud providers – he nevertheless reaches the conclusion that wireless and LAN infrastructure will remain a going concern at most organizations. At best, development and management will assume a more software-based posture, and that’s assuming security and governance issues in the cloud will be resolved in relatively short order.

    That may turn out to be a fairly broad assumption considering the deep reservations that still exist among top IT executives to fully trust the cloud with the enterprise jewels. As ZDnet found out in a recent poll, the future of on-premises applications, and by extension the infrastructure to support them, was affirmed by an 11-to-1 margin. Remember, security is only one concern when it comes to the cloud – there are also reliability, integration, migration and a range of other issues. And as demand for real-time services and customized data environments grows, we may find that on-premises infrastructure will prove vital in the coming years, particularly as it becomes more cloud-like itself.

    Indeed, even if we fully buy into the concept of the “software-defined data center,” argues Tintri CEO Kieran Harty, there will still be a need for the same three infrastructure pillars to support it, namely servers, storage and networking. The only difference is that provisioning, configuration and management will no longer require direct manipulation of physical devices. Network pathways and the relationships between various endpoints will exist in logic, making them easier to manipulate and ultimately producing an eminently more flexible and dynamic data environment. And when actual components need to be upgraded or replaced, it can be done with little or no impact on the steady flow of information.

    If anything, all this talk about the future of infrastructure is a distraction from the real benefits of software-based data environments. Next week, our sister publication eWeek will host its latest Tweetchat, “Defining, Deploying and Defending Software-Defined Networks,” which will examine the impact of SDN on the enterprise. With IDC predicting the market expanding from $365 million this year to more than $3.7 billion by 2016, the time is clearly ripe for a broad industry discussion of where we are going and how we will get there. Participants can join the May 8 confab using #eWeekChat or

    As I’ve mentioned several times, the fact that infrastructure will remain a function of the enterprise even in the virtual/cloud era does not mean it will remain a primary concern for IT management. Like the cement in the data center foundation or the wiring in its walls, infrastructure will be there but it will no longer hold sway over the enterprise’s ability to create and manipulate the data at its disposal.

    It must be cared for, and even improved from time to time, but it will no longer be where the action is.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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