Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A World Without Data Centers

Normally, talking about data centers would be a guaranteed way to cause people to look away.  After all, who really wants to read a discussion about facility size, "tons" of air conditioning, network routing gear, or biometric security?  Although data centers are absolutely critical to the functioning technology of any company, talking about them is just like discussing road construction. BORING

Now what if I could tell you, definitively, that data centers are rapidly becoming extinct? You know, the ones that every company invests in to house core IT equipment.  To an IT practitioner this statement might border on the blasphemous.  For decades standard practice for almost all companies has been to build/buy/lease space where the servers and storage that provide all applications from email to SAP reside.  To make the statement that these are now rapidly going away might just seem ludicrous and quite improbable.

Let me provide a little context to the whole concept of data centers.  In order to deliver operating systems, files, applications, and other services to a company, IT practitioners must rely on a number of different pieces of equipment.  For example:
  • Servers - the machines that do calculations
  • Storage - hard disc arrays and other machines that house data and/or information
  • Routers - the devices that handle the movement of data "traffic" from the data center to users and vice versa
  • Switches - the equipment that handles bandwidth for data, telephones, and other functions
  • Power arrays - machines that insure that electricity stays within standard parameters
  • Backup - could be tape drives or banks of hard disc storage
  • Air condition units - self explanatory
There are many more components, but you get the point.  But what's more, if the IT people continue to follow standard practices, each data center has an exact clone.  These sites are often simply named "Backup or Secondary data centers".  Put simply, each data center has a failover site.  This fact has always meant double costs for a site that can allow a company to continue to function in the event that the primary site is lost.  The importance of a secondary site can sometimes be overlooked. I was the head of IT at a multi-billion dollar company that (at the start of my tenure) had its primary data center constructed one floor directly above a cafeteria kitchen!  Talk about not quite understanding the complete situation...

The foundation of business continuity, since 1990, has been anchored to a company's ability to continually provide IT services of all types.  How, then, can I say that data centers are going away?

You may have guessed it by now.  The future of IT services, which means fundamentally the infrastructure that serves it, is moving to the cloud.  The concept of a company-owned physical data center was "marked for death" when the first software as a service (SaaS) applications appeared during the last decade.

When you really think about the importance of information technology, it is *never* about the servers, storage, or network.  The importance is whether or not the app/tool/application is available on your end-use device - exactly when you need it.  Given this truth, we now have a reality where whole corporations (Amazon, VMWare, Microsoft Azure, Google, IBM, Wipro) exist to provide the infrastructure that your company needs with better service and lower price.  In this new reality the need to build data centers is no longer a necessity, at least for the average company.

If you had the choice to invest $5 million in one of two things, would it be:

a) New technology that can enhance your firm's reporting, business analytics, and operations (OR)

b) Constructing a building that you will then condition to host a number of depreciating servers, switches, and storage units

The future has never been more clear.  Unless your company is in the business of providing data center services as its core function, the days of internally built and operated facilities are drawing to an end.


  1. Hаving read thiѕ I thοught it wаs eхtremelу informаtive.
    ӏ аppreciate you ѕρending some time and 
    еffort to put this article together. Ι once studied about
    amazon vmware and glad to see such valuable information about in details.

  2. Thank you, Elbert! So much has happened in the cloud/virtualization space in the past few years. Many careers in IT are having their job descriptions rewritten every six months.