Cloud – The New Data Center

Everyone talks about the “cloud” and how it is either the greatest thing, or just an expensive replacement. What can it really mean for you?  The real answer may not be what you think. The term can seem different, ethereal, and difficult to define. From my perspective, it is measured, easy and predictable.  I do agree that public offerings are sometimes an expensive replacement.  Meanwhile, back on earth, the cloud is the same as your data center. Well, sort of…

A little background on my previous data centers:

My data centers had Dell, HP, Compaq, and eventually Cisco servers. In a few jobs, we even had IBM mainframes. There were various types of storage which evolved into external storage arrays and storage area networks. Everyone – well almost everyone – had Cisco for their network, but some used Extreme Networks or Foundry equipment.  In the end, we all built with the same things: servers, storage and network.  In those same data centers, people were keeping them running. The hardware dynamic changed with virtualization and the one-to-one server ratio ended. This freedom made sharing hardware resources between applications possible and started the march towards the cloud.

What does the “cloud” mean for your business?

Like some of you reading this, I probably know more than I really should have to know about data center components. HVAC! Electrical! Some data centers have new systems.  HVAC or Electrical systems require major overhaul in others.  Where do you fall?  For some companies, you must see, touch, or own the HVAC, electrical, server, storage or network equipment.  At other companies, you only care that it all works.  It doesn’t make sense to abandon a brand-new data center with all the desired systems.  But data centers built years ago might have difficulty updating due to budget, space or the critical nature of the systems.  A hybrid configuration of on-site and cloud can really be as simple as a virtual private network. Some parts of an application run on servers that remain in your data center and connect to other parts that run in the cloud.

Why should IT be in the “cloud?”

In all my years in Information Technology, I have never seen a place where we had too manyemployees.  So, placing your environment in the cloud can make some sense.  It is, however, heavily impacted by your people, process, and procedures.  If you have a motivated staff, new data center, and up-to-date systems, then the cloud is a distant thought.  If you are like the rest of us, then you need to decide if you want to do everything, or just be the expert on a few things.  Let the service provider pick the hardware, hold the mortgage on the data center, and keep the systems patched for the latest vulnerabilities.  You just have to verify that they do the job you expect.

Historical perspective:

I was once talking with the CTO of a company as I was building their new data center in Northern California. At the time, he was known as a visionary in the industry.  One curious contractor asked the ultimate technology question.  Where is PC technology going next? His question was about processors, but translates to much more if applied today.  At the time, it was can we really keep getting faster and faster processors?  He said something that seemed odd back then because he did not think they could get any faster.  He was thinking about CPU clock speed. What none of us considered was multiple processors on one chip.  Looking forward, I don’t want to make a prediction like that.  The cloud is going to continue to grow, expand, and attract more customers.  As with any system, some will adore it and others despise it.  The adoration will come from the freedom it brings and the dislike will come from the cost model.

I would like to think outside the box and see the cloud in a different way. Today, people order “cloud servers” like a pizza; I would like my server with 2 processors, 8GB of memory, and 2TB of solid state disk, please.  I feel like I’ve gone back to the old ways of buying servers.  Let’s change that narrative!  How about “as a Service” rather than “cloud?”  We should look at the resources required for the organization’s environment and provide the service based upon the overall need.  Only then will the cloud become what it is destined to become.