Data is proliferating at a rapid rate. Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), smart devices and robotics are the driving force behind this surge, with thousands of devices transmitting and receiving valuable information every millisecond. Coupled with data generated by usual business operational processes, organisations are feeling the brunt of the sheer volume of their data.
On the back end, businesses are investing in yet more technologies to manage, analyse and effectively use this data in real-time. As a result, traditional data centres are taking a hit, requiring more processing power, more electricity, more space and so on. Yet data centres are a key aspect of driving digitalisation. Those very technologies that put pressure on data centres, require them to thrive.
The shift from traditional to digital
Data centres, in the traditional sense, have typically been built around predicted data capacities, sized according to estimated volumes and, of course, operational infrastructure requirements. However, few could predict the scale of data we are now required to manage. To cope with this demand many organisations are exploring digital data platforms and shared or cloud-based data centres.
The idea of leveraging cloud-based data centres on a consumption basis has massive appeal. Not only can businesses scale their services based on current demand (particularly useful for seasonal operations) but they can also begin to move away from costly on-premise data centres that chew into their budget.
Beyond the demands of data driving the need for more space and power, on-premise data centres are also expensive to maintain. Organisations need to retain costly in-house skills to manage their data centres, and keeping up with technological advancements to stay abreast of innovation means constant technology refreshes.
Many businesses have recognised the value of shared data centres over owning their own, where costs can be distributed and shared across multiple tenants. However, the organisation itself still needs to bear the costs of managing their own environment, and space can still become an issue if the data centre reaches capacity. Data centres are commodities and should start being treated as such.
Data centres are a commodity
Cloud data centres offer all the benefits of on-premise data centres, and then some. With these environments, a business can pay for what they use, leveraging infrastructure, platforms and software as a service. The cloud offers the elasticity required to shift workloads as they are required, allowing for growth and innovation while keeping costs down and scaling management of the environment.
Saying this, not all businesses may be ready for the cloud. In organisations where data is of a sensitive nature and requires strict security controls, or where they have in-house applications which may not be designed around the cloud, they will continue to require on-premise data centres.
The biggest impedance to cloud is centred around security. Many organisations believe that the cloud is not as secure as on-premise and have opted instead to keep their traditional data centres, or choose a hybrid alternative, leveraging both the cloud and on-premise where it makes sense.
Cloud is becoming vastly more secure though, and Gartner indicates that it is as secure as on-premise infrastructure provided the organisation has the right policies and processes in place to effectively manage their security. Many cloud providers – both public and private – have built their data centre services around cloud security standards that use tools which often supersede what a business may have on-premise. Threat exposure is all about the policies and controls that the business implements, whether on-premise or in the cloud, and the biggest concern that should be held is to ensure that the cloud provider’s security is aligned with the business’s own security policies.
Another barrier is the lack of portability when it comes to in-house applications that aren’t designed with the cloud in mind. This is holding many companies back, especially where those applications are business critical, and no replacements currently match them in terms of functionality. But the time will come when the only obstacle to total cloud migration will be the time it takes for businesses to re-design their in-house applications for the cloud, or leverage a cloud offer that can replace their own.
Data centres are a commodity and should be used to derive the most business value out of an organisation’s data and applications. For now, businesses are still toeing the line between traditional, on-premise, owned data centres and more modern, consumption-based cloud models. But, as businesses recognise the need to evolve, commoditising their back-end infrastructure as tools to differentiate themselves from their competitors, the shift to cloud will become matter of fact.
By Rajan Padayachee, Head of Solutions Design, Projects and Portfolio at T-Systems South Africa