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Stop Comparing Your Data Center to Cloud Computing

26 Feb 2016 by Bob Violino

If you’re like many CIOs and IT managers, you probably find yourself often falling into the tempting but dangerous trap of comparing your organization’s data center to cloud computing.

And why wouldn’t that be the case? For several years now, many industry experts, vendors and service providers have been singing the praises of the cloud as the answer to all of IT’s problems and needs. Cloud services will mean the end of the traditional data center, they say.

To be sure, the cloud offers huge potential benefits for organizations: cost savings, energy reduction, greater agility, increased scalability — to name a few. But to paraphrase a line often attributed to Mark Twain, the demise of the data center has been greatly exaggerated.

“The future will have both internal data centers and cloud providers,” says Rakesh Kumar, managing vice president at research firm Gartner. “Traditional data centers will not go away over the next five-plus years, and in some cases they are cheaper to run and operate than external sites.”

Strategies for internal, external cloud services

In some instances there might be strategic reasons to wholly own traditional data centers, such as for government entities where data ownership might be key, Kumar says.

While comparing the data center and the cloud can be a valuable source of learning what works best for your business, it can also spin you into a tail-chasing frenzy of doubt, and lead to sleepless nights worrying about cyberthreats, reliability and availability.

Rather than spending time comparing their existing data centers with the cloud, technology leaders should be exploring how private and public cloud services can be vital components of the emerging data center environment that will essentially be a hybrid infrastructure.

It makes more sense to think about what your business must do in order to stay innovative and competitive, and which of the different IT infrastructures — converged, hyper-converged or OpenStack, hybrid and software-defined — will help accomplish that goal.

“This is the correct way to do it,” Kumar says. “Firstly, focus on the critical business issues. Define those issues and understand what is needed.” Only then should companies determine which data center delivery mechanism — cloud, colocation or internal data center — is best, he says.

“Insight’s approach is to understand where the client wants to be three, four or five years from now, validate where they are today and work on a plan that addresses their business requirements,” says Cameron Bulanda, vice president of data center specialty sales at Insight.

“Then we fill in the ‘gaps’ that exist, leveraging solutions and services from Insight and our strategic partner portfolio,” Bulanda says. “Our job is not to sell our clients more hardware and software, but rather provide new capabilities based on the solutions that are available.”

Harmonizing data centers and the cloud

Data centers and the cloud are not competitors. They complement one another and have to work together to run well, meet today’s digital demands and at the same time provide a secure environment.

Most of Insight’s enterprise, commercial and public sector clients want or need to have their Tier 1 applications and client data on premises, either in their data center or a colocation site, Bulanda says. “We are working with clients to move Tier 1 apps and data to the cloud. But due to security, compliance and policy issues, many of our clients will be working in a hybrid mode for many years to come.”

How can companies balance the traditional data center and the cloud, and take advantage of their complementary assets?

A methodical approach that includes an assessment motion to understand the “as is” environment should be the first step to understanding what applications can go where, Bulanda says.

“Until you understand application interdependencies and performance requirements, any solution approach would be flawed,” Bulanda says. “Many of our clients believe they know their environment, but almost without exception our assessment finds connections, apps and interdependencies that they had no idea existed.”

Companies need to consider “how persuasive digital is and will continue to be,” Kumar adds. “Digital will affect every part of our personal and working world. Once that is understood, it becomes clear that the delivery mechanism must be agile, resilient and secure.” This can only be achieved by a combination of cloud, colocation and internal data centers, he says.

This article originally appeared in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Technically digital magazine.