By David Trossell, CEO and CTO of Bridgeworks
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on data centres with the increased shift towards remote and home-working. The biggest winner in technology terms is the cloud. Zeus Kerravala states: “Perhaps no technology industry benefitted more from the pandemic than cloud computing; the location independence of cloud services makes them ideal for a world where the majority of line-of-business, as well as IT workers, are no longer in the office.”
But does that mean businesses will rely on infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and no longer need their own on-premises data centres and data-centre IT teams? Analysts and futurists have been asking this question for about a decade, but now cloud, already strong before the pandemic, has gone through an inflection point and brought new immediacy to the issue.
There is a tendency to jump onto the bandwagon, and the latest one is about the COVID-19 pandemic and cloud computing. Despite this, Kerravala is right to suggest that data centres aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. In his view, they will be fundamentally different, which he sees as positive news for people working in data centres and for those seeking a data centre career because the “adoption of cloud and other changes will create a wave of new opportunities.”
Yet, the first thing I would say is: “Don’t
use the Cloud to fix a problem that doesn’t exist!” Secondly, follow the ROI –
not just short term – but middle and long-term.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s look at the cloud and the pandemic. Whether you have an in-house data centre or a
cloud-based data centre, you are still going to have to have staff manning and
supervising it. Many have found that it is just as easy to manage locations
Cloud latency exists
One problem arises time and time again,
though: too many people think the cloud has no latency. Yes, it can be lower
than a single worldwide data centre, but you still need to manage where you
provide the apps and the data to your remote users. It also can’t be emphasised
enough that the overall short, medium and long-term costs should always be
borne in mind.
It is quicker and more cost-effective to stand something up in the cloud to manage remote workers and customers against capital expenditure, but what about the costs three years, or even four years down the road? Most capital expenditure (Capex) equipment deprecates over three years, so at the end it owes you nothing in year four, but the cloud is still costing the same money. More than likely, the three year cost of the cloud will be more expensive than the Capex costs.
Will businesses rely on Infrastructure-as-a-Service
(IaaS), and will they no longer need their own on-premise data centres and data
centre IT teams? It’s a tricky question: do you stick with the data centre, or a
hybrid model? IaaS depends on the return on investment (ROI), and many organisations
are finding that the all-in model – such as VMware in AWS – is the way forward.
Its managed service reduces the considerable overheads related to maintaining
the infrastructure, with only inhouse staff developing the application to the
other extreme, where the current data centre premise and equipment is
maintained. There are good arguments for
both sides, as well as the hybrid model. Moving data out of the cloud is a
costly exercise and should be considered when calculating the ROI.
So, why is there a new
immediacy to the issue: is the end in sight for data centres? This is a little
like the age-old prophecy that tape is dead and, like tape, it will find a new
position in the storage market. So, the data centre will survive, but it will occupy
a different position or find a different use. There are some that need non-stop
computing facilities. The cloud typically does not provide the SLA required for
this level of continuity and therefore would like to manage that facility.
There will be others where the data they hold is sensitive and, again, remain
under the owner’s tight control.
Where data and apps reside
With increased home-working, known as the ‘WHA
movement’, where data and apps reside is going to be critical to the user
experience. If this is an international company, then it must reside within the
country or for large countries in different regions. But this all depends on
the app and the data format or size and on the frequency in which the data
Many organisations recognise the social aspect of
employment, as well as the comradery that goes with face-to-face personal
contact. For this reason, it will be downsizing the Head Quarters offices to
increase the number of Edge offices scattered around the region, along with the
The future data centre
How will data centres look fundamentally different in 5-10 years’ time? Despite those that advocate cloud as the future, there is always a need for other forms of data centres because, despite the justifications, cloud is not the only answer. Just look at the recent change in the PC industry: two years ago, everyone discussed the demise of the PC, but now it has had some of the best quarters for a long time and, let’s face it, the IT industry, just like the fashion industry, goes around in circles. In the end, like flash, hard disks and tape, cloud or on-prem data centres will find their position in the IT industry.
One thing is becoming more apparent in
published articles is the interest in de-clouding, due to costs – especially
when pulling data from the cloud. Some companies, like Atempo, are beginning to
offer these services. So, what does this mean for cloud adoption? There is a
view that increased cloud adoption will lead to a new wave of opportunities,
while de-clouding could also cause the market to become totally transformed.
Disrupting the norm
The cloud has been around for years now and,
as with every new technology that comes along, it disrupts the norm. In the end,
it will come down to money and ROI. One of the big positives that has come out
of the cloud is the low cost of entry to compute power for new companies. This
saves the issue of finding Capex when money is always tight, while developing
the business. It also allows for the rapid scaling of resources whenever they
You can walk away if the project fails, too. Nevertheless, it’s vital to look back to see
if there is a change in ROI, as well as the costs going forward. There may be a
reflection point where Capex could work out more efficiently when looked at
over a longer period. Organisations should also look beyond what they already
know to succeed, or to increase the performance of, for example, their wide
area networks to mitigate the impact of latency and packet loss. That’s
because, while WAN networking and security trends may change over the next few
years, latency and packet loss won’t.
So, whether it is pure cloud,
hybrid or full on-premise infrastructure, the key factor is the data and the
ability to access it without hindrance. Now, more than at any other time, organisations
need to move more and more data securely over longer distances faster than
ever. This means our WAN infrastructure, and the tools organisations use to
manage them to improve the performance of data transfer, must change to make
the best use of the new breed of high-speed multigigabit WANs.
To maximise these data transfers, organisations must
ditch the previous generation of WAN Optimisation products, replacing them with
WAN Acceleration to maximise the throughput of the new multi-gigabit WANs. They
efficiently and effectively mitigate the effects of latency and packet loss
that all WANs suffer from.
This past year, with the effects of COVID restrictions, has transformed the way organisations and individuals work. Many organisations have had to embrace digital transformation, considerably sooner than they had planned. This has led to a shortage of skilled IT workers across all disciplines, whilst there are several people from the older generations grabbing it as an opportunity to retire.
Training new IT professionals
It is therefore imperative for organisations to significantly increase the number of new entrants into the industry – especially women – through Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and training programmes. They will enable the industry to develop the skills data centres needed for cloud management, data analytics, network programming and security. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t begin the evolution of the data centre, but it has had to accelerate its need to adapt to change. The cloud may not be always the right solution, but without data centres, it’s hard to achieve cloud benefits.