The Same Old Data Center in the Cloud, or Something Completely Different?

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    The constant theme in data center circles these days is change. Virtualization, the cloud, solid-state storage—all are driving traditional data infrastructure in new and exotic directions. Most observers, however, tend to view this change in terms of the present, or even the past—that is, how will this new technology solve the problems I’m dealing with today?

    It’s not an unreasonable question to ask. In the end, it falls a little short, though, because the true benefit of new technology is usually not in its ability to fix the problems of the past but to open up entirely new benefits for the future. The first ones to envision that future and capitalize on it will become the titans of tomorrow’s data industry.

    Gartner hit on this notion recently in its latest evaluation of the cloud industry. While noting that most organizations still need to put cloud infrastructure into motion, analyst Gregor Petri cautioned that the money being spent today to upgrade legacy data centers will be poorly spent if the enterprise maintains a data center-centric view in the new cloud/services era. In other words, why limit the cloud to a mere cost-savings function when it offers so much promise as a revenue and opportunity builder?

    The million-dollar question, though, is how to do that, and unfortunately there are no easy answers. But we can look at some of the prevailing service trends of today and make some rough predictions. MetraTech’s CMO Esmeralda Swartz, for one, sees entirely new business models and processes emerging for a uniquely cloud infrastructure. Service providers could mash up their offerings with third-party applications to tap new markets, while users could adopt new collaborative capabilities to locate, compile and manage the tools necessary to accomplish tasks. At first, it won’t be easy to do—nothing worthwhile ever is—but the potential benefits are huge.

    In essence, what the enterprise should be striving for in the cloud is not just software, platform or infrastructure as a service, but full-blown “business as a service,” says entrepreneur Kunal Ashar. By enabling an integrated set of collaborative and transactional services, organizations will be able to move business verticals or even entire divisions into the cloud. This removes a major burden, IT infrastructure, from the organization’s shoulders, allowing it to focus more intently on core, revenue-generating businesses. At the same time, it will enhance speed, adaptability, scalability and overall performance of business processes, while fostering improved reliability (yes, reliability) and collaboration with partners and clients.

    Clearly, this is a fundamental shift in the way data environments are built and managed today, so the stakes are high for those who do the building and managing. As TechCrunch’s Alex Williams points out, this change is already playing out with the rise of Internet-facing companies, many of which are already utilizing the cloud as their primary data infrastructure. In this world, services matter more than hardware or even software, and the cloud represents a clear opportunity to buy, sell, develop and optimize services that traditional infrastructure cannot match. There is a reason why NetFlix runs primarily through Amazon and not on its own distributed architecture; in this world, developers are the top dogs—not IT, nor even salespeople.

    As I’ve mentioned, legacy data center infrastructure still holds a lot of value for the enterprise, the bulk of which can be leveraged as internal systems become more cloud-like. But throughout this process, it is important for enterprise executives to focus their thinking away from what the cloud is or is not and toward thinking about what it could be.

    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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