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Data Centers in Today’s Digital World: Part 1 of 3

15 Mar 2016 by Howard M Cohen

Every cloud service is produced at a purpose-built, special-function data center. Some produce data backup services, others provide productivity tools and then there are general purpose infrastructure-support providers. But they are all data centers. And what tomorrow’s IT advisor is going to be helping customers identify is the data centers, or clouds, they should be using to fulfill their IT requirements.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to back up all the data on your hard drive, you would go to your local computer store and buy a tape backup device and some tape cartridges. If you wanted to protect your computer from malware, spam or other nasties, you’d go buy some anti-malware or anti-spam software. If you wanted to process some words, you’d go out and buy word-processing software.

Today, in each of these scenarios, you’re more likely to subscribe to a cloud backup service, an anti-virus/anti-spam service and an online productivity suite.

The changing definition of ‘integrator’

Many IT service providers identify themselves as “integrators.” For many years, that has meant they take hardware devices from various manufacturers, software from various publishers and combine those into a complete solution installed at a customer’s location. Since the products selected are chosen for being best of breed, the resulting system is the best possible solution.

But, along the way, integrators realized some of the services they were integrating and installing on customer premises could be delivered more efficiently and reliably from their own data center.

They could build one infrastructure to deliver those services from their own data center and sell the subsequent services to many customers. Even if they charged each customer less than they would to install the service on the customer’s premises, they still made more money.

Defining the cloud

Two key definitions in the IT world changed forever. The first was the definition of being an “integrator.” They were integrating both hardware and software on customer’s premises, as well as integrating services produced in their own data center into the solution.

And at the same time, the “cloud” was born.

Perhaps the most pragmatic definition of cloud computing services, beyond what is embodied in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) definition, is that cloud services are delivered from a purpose-built, dedicated data center operated by IT professionals.

It follows that there really is no such thing as “the cloud.” There is no singular repository, or place, that contains all the powerful services and distributes them out to everyone. Instead, there are many clouds all over the world. In the IT world, we refer more commonly to these many “clouds,” simply, as “data centers.”

The future of cloud computing: Combining data centers

We’re reaching an important transition in the history of computing, a maturing of the digital world that began with the thought that data would travel best in binary packets of ones and zeroes. These changes are leading to the development of the digital economy and forcing heads of data centers to focus on agility, innovation and gaining a competitive advantage. However, data centers must also use the latest technologies and integrate through intelligent software layers.

“At the same time, there will be an increase in investment around the Nexus of Forces (cloud, social, mobile and information) as many businesses focus on growth and new opportunities,” according to Gartner’s report, “How to Select the Correct Data Center Option for the Digital World,” published in October 2015.

Gartner recommends a modern data center strategy, including three different data center personality models to classify your workloads. The analyst firm refers to the first of these “personalities” as “Agility & Innovation.”

Agility & innovation in the new digital world

What we have witnessed in the past decade since the introduction of the concept of “cloud computing” is the enablement of a far more modular approach to computing altogether.

Previously, as discussed at the outset of this article, adding functionality to any system required a purchase, usually of products. In the consumer framework implied earlier, this seems simple enough. But in the corporate framework, purchasing something requires research and development of the right solution, requests for approval of allocated funds for the purchase, vendor approvals, negotiations, the processing of purchase orders and, ultimately, a lengthy project to install and implement the products purchased.

This is clearly not a process designed to promote agility or innovation. In fact, it is the antithesis.

Cloud computing changed everything by eliminating the purchases altogether and replacing them with simple subscriptions. If a project requires data back-up protection, someone clicks on a provider’s portal and subscribes to the service. It is then instantly provisioned and quickly configured to provide the required services. Number crunching requiring more processors, more memory, more storage or other resources takes immediate advantage of the “elasticity” of cloud computing and requests the needed resources, which are also immediately provisioned and configured.

There is no delay. Response is immediate. Decision-makers can respond to opportunities with great agility to fuel their innovative ideas.

Opposing forces

It does seem, however, that every advance in computing strategy brings opposing forces face to face. Mobile computing is an excellent example. Users want quick, nimble, unobstructed access to their resources without being hampered by extra keystrokes or procedures. Corporate wants to provide that, but puts more emphasis on authentication, authorization and other network and data security concerns, which unavoidably introduce more keystrokes and procedures. Compromises must be reached.

The same is true in the new digital world with what Gartner refers to as the “bimodal IT” model of computing.

“Gartner research has shown that the tension between doing things safely and scalabley on the one hand, and quickly, flexibly exploring new opportunities and threats on the other, has been massively amplified by the emerging digital world. Not dealing with this tension results in dysfunctional internal behaviors and competitive weakness. Leading organizations have begun operating IT in two modes to address this issue. Gartner calls this type of operating "bimodal." Traditional (Mode 1) IT needs a subculture focused on delighting the internal and external customer. Nonlinear (Mode 2) IT needs a subculture focused on constantly exploring new technologies and innovations, while continually pivoting and adapting.”

Managing bimodal IT

In the following articles in this series, we’ll explore the balance between the Agility & Innovation “personality” of data centers, and the other two personalities, “Intelligence & Integration” and “Risk and Availability.” We’ll also focus on the implications of this shift from integrating products to integrating services on the worlds of the “value added reseller” (VAR) and the IT Service Provider (ITSP).

In the meantime, download Gartner’s report, “How to Select the Correct Data Center Option for the Digital World,” to learn more about prescribing the best, most effective data center strategy for your customers.