The Effect of Cloud Computing on the Data Center

In May of 2012, I have published a blog post and discussed the types and the evolution of the data center. In this article, I will take the discussion further and try to see what will be the impact of the cloud on the data center.

There are a lot of scenarios about the data center and the cloud, you can either take a service from the cloud or move everything to a hoster. Depending on your business strategy, your environment, legal requirements, security concerns, loss of data control issues your cloud adaptation most probably be unique to your company.

Many reports have been issued by trusted companies such as Attunity, TechTarget and Gartner, which give numbers that are hard to ignore:

  • public and private cloud adaptation rate is about 25% (TechTarget – although the article discusses that the adaptation is lower despite the vendor hype),

  • companies using at least one platform has increased from 67% (2012) to 75% (2013) (Attunity),

  • half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments by the end of 2017 (Gartner).

I do not present the data to show that you have to move to the cloud as soon as possible. Rather, I am discussing that cloud is something you have to consider in your decision making process. I am further discussing that with this adoption rates, it is very likely, if not obvious, that your data center will be affected. Let’s try to see how:

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Network connectivity will become more crucial compared to today. Moving to the cloud means being always online. You may have systems that can allow short or intermittent connectivity loses but the company will not be able to cope with longer disconnections. In case of traditional computer architecture, where the data is stored locally (or cached) and manipulated using the locally installed applications, business will not get a big hit with the disconnection. However in case of thin clients, losing connectivity means stopping work. With the current landscape in the network area, it is not likely for the companies to abandon the wired infrastructure, or to abandon the office completely allowing everyone to work at home, or use 3G/4G to handle all the connections. Personally I expect more network devices with different features coming into the data center – caching systems, bandwidth management systems, network load balancers, multiple service provider connections etc. (and since all these will be managed by the network engineer, it looks as if it will be a good career path).

Depending on where you place your data, your storage systems will be affected. If we understand Office documents as data, moving to a cloud platform will free some space from your storage area. But if we think broadly and understand virtual machine disks, databases, e-mails as data, moving to the cloud will free a significant space for any of these items. Moving e-mail and Office to the cloud through an online service, such as Office 365, will free some terabytes of space from your storage. Just do the math: for the entry-level Office 365 offering, as of writing  this post, you get 50 gigabyte space for e-mail and 25 gigabyte for storing Office documents, making 75 gigabyte of storage space for a single user. If you are a company that has 15 people working, it means 1.1 terabyte is lifted from your storage. And it does not stop here, to backup such an amount of data, you need to have dedicated backup systems – online, offsite storage, tape devices – plus the backup software.

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Today applications cover a wide range of programs, from locally installed applications to online applications, from mobile applications to databases. And this is the area where companies make their first moves to the cloud. Many companies experience using the cloud by moving their e-mails first. There are also companies who try to experiment with the Windows Azure platform by moving their less mission critical databases to Azure. Same goes for migrating the onsite applications to online services, such as Dynamics Online, Salesforce etc.. Making these moves will free up hardware resources and will allow the system administrators use the resources elsewhere. This may result in implementing other services such as virtual desktop infrastructure or implementing in-house built systems that serve particular needs.

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In a similar way, services will be redefined, especially monitoring services. Since the business continuity is now somehow dependent on the network connectivity, in turn smooth running of the applications, monitoring will be paramount. Since the network is open, intrusion detection systems is also likely to change shape and become more intelligent (and maybe more paranoid). Task schedulers will more like to be affected because the environment will be more heterogeneous compared to the on-premise-only data center. With the more complex services, especially for authentication, I would keep Active Directory on site until the last moment of obsolescence. Of course, moving to Windows Azure Active Directory is an option, but until the last moment I wouldn’t shut down my domain controller. No need to say, this type of an authentication infrastructure will have an impact on the connected services such as RADIUS or Identity Management applications.

In sum, in the future, I see fewer, consolidated racks with greater criticality. Rather than having lots of top-tier individual servers, I see more powerful but smaller hardware with lots of storage to manage the criticality of the momentary operations. I don’t see the future with unemployed system administrators, rather just the opposite. They have left e-mail, communication and similar services and focused even more on the business-critical systems.

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