The Postmortem on the Data Center
Data Centers are dead. There will never again be a need for big expensive, underutilized rooms in corporate campuses. Enterprises will never have to attempt to acquire and maintain skills and capabilities that are difficult to attain and add no direct value to business operations or success. The data center – the heart and soul of enterprise IT as we knew it – is an anachronism as much as the engine of a Model-T would be if you attempted to place it in a Tesla.
OK, so what replaces the corporate data center?
The typical corporate data center has been the equivalent of a boat anchor for the business. You build or retrofit a facility that you expect to work for the business for 15 years without any real ability to determine whether what your building will be able to support what you’ll need for that long. If there’s anything that modern technology trends have made clear it’s that demand (capacity, speed, variety and location) are driving IT to find new ways to enable solution availability to customers.
The key isn’t in finding the replacement data center, rather it’s in moving towards a more agile service development and delivery. The modern equivalent of a data center is a collection of capabilities and services that allow a business to quickly and efficiently select or de-select services without risking time to value loss or carrying the high overhead of a long search and acquisition process for new capacity or capability.
Where do I find this land of services, speed, capacity and location?
The first thing to remember is that data center replacement isn’t the goal – the goal is driven by the “why”. Why do you need to have more services faster? You need more services because your business is expecting to be able to respond to customer and opportunity demands in real time. Take the example of Tesla; Elon Musk received a suggestion from a customer via Twitter and, six days later, he had implemented a solution. This kind of response to almost real-time customer suggestions, feedback and or learnings is what businesses require and are beginning to expect.
Face it, everyone expects to be able to consume IT the way we consume it as “consumers”. There is a common theme for all the current major trends in IT (IoT, ML/AI, Big Data, VR and Cloud) and that theme is “customer intimacy”. As part of gaining a better connection with your customer there is the need to fulfill their needs in near real-time.
How do you fulfil Customer needs in real time
There are at least three strategies for delivering the benefits of a traditional data center in real time.
The first is retail co-location. The land of services, speed, capacity and capability, isn’t necessarily one place but is likely to include the use of a strong provider in the retail co-location space: A strong provider will have an ecosystem of services and capabilities that would be cost prohibitive if not impossible to enable in a private data center.
The opportunity with retail co-location is to take space in a facility(s) that replaces your businesses need to own and manage data centers. The bigger opportunity is to position the infrastructure you will be keeping, or that you are slowly transitioning from, in a location that offers access to myriad capabilities and services that aren’t – and never will be available in your private data center. Becoming part of an ecosystem gives you immediate and on-prem access to services, technologies, capabilities and capacity that allow you to make and change solution choices in near real time. Whether the solutions you seek are cloud, SaaS, PaaS, connections to other external clouds or cross connects to industry partners, it’s all at your fingertips. They also provide you with the choice of avoiding being locked in to one or two network or cloud service providers.
The second is Public Cloud. Public cloud is an obvious if not always perfect option for helping to bury the corporate DC. We’ve all heard the prognostications “there’s only one place for your workloads and that’s the public cloud”. While the preceding comment can be and is true for some businesses, it isn’t for all, which is why the ecosystem enabled retail co-location option is going to be part of the story for most.
The third option for enabling the death of the data center is SaaS. It’s true that SaaS doesn’t mean that all your data collection and ownership goes away. However, SaaS does mean that many of the application environments that you would normally have hosted in your data center no longer require that space. But, since it’s unlikely every application required by a business will be invented and offered via SaaS with the specific innovation needed for a business to win a given market, what else do you need? We’re back to the combination of retail co-location, and cloud.
The why, again
The Why is simple: The enterprise needs a dramatically improved ability to respond to opportunity. This opportunity might be manifested through the increasing speed of sentiment changes in the market. It could also be in trying to prepare for the expected onslaught of demand that will likely come from the continued democratization of access to IT and a much greater connection with the customer.
You can’t allow yourself to be caught flat-footed holding the data center in your hands. Even if you believe that data centers are dead because you expect everything to go to public cloud, you shouldn’t wait three to five years to transition. Now is the time to act so that you can make strategic choices around how you’ll plan to leverage your new capabilities going forward, without breaking the bank in the process. In the end, you might still own something, but you need to strategically own it so that it’s not a gate in the way of your progress.