Why the Data Centre isn’t Dead Yet.

Reports of the ‘death of the data centre’, increasingly prevalent with the rise of the cloud solution, are greatly exaggerated. Instead, what we’re seeing is a more mature data centre network and server infrastructure, one that works in harmony with flexible cloud infrastructure and delivers a truly rounded data hosting strategy. And it’s not just a matter of when to transition to cloud but what and how. Jarlath Mallon, Technical Architect at eir Business NI, advises businesses to take time to weigh up the many factors that will help with the decision-making process.

We’ve all read the reports suggesting that the cloud has killed the data centre, but the reality is quite different. Despite new IT computing scenarios being deployed using cloud models and traditional IT services being migrated to cloud service alternatives, the data centre continues to play a vital role. According to the Cisco Global Cloud Index, global data centre traffic is projected to triple from 2014 to 2019, while cloud traffic within data centres is expected to quadruple during that period. What’s more, the surge in cloud activity has driven a symbiotic relationship between the cloud and the data centre, forcing innovation within the data centre sphere across compute, storage and networking.

From a networking perspective, for example, the major vendors have invested heavily in their switching technology (delivering tremendous throughput, resilience, large queue depth & converging storage to name but a few) to offer higher density; reduced rack footprint; reduced cost to purchase, run and cool; alongside a lesser carbon footprint. Together with 40gbps as the new minimum entry point, technologies such as VXLAN and eVPN and bleeding-edge software defined networking (SDN), these developments make the modern datacentre look a lot different to that of a decade ago.

As a network partner to organisations across Northern Ireland, we’re seeing enterprises embracing a hybrid model that brings the best of cloud and on-premise storage to the fore – incorporating virtualisation, private clouds, hosting, colocation, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings. This model allows companies the flexibility and scalability to add new services while ensuring availability, security and speed of mission-critical ones. It also allows them to maintain control of their IT environments, yet still take advantage of the efficiencies that cloud management provides.

But it’s not as basic as that. We’ve compiled a short list of things to consider when determining where to host your data and applications:

1. Security: for any large organisation, security is an ongoing concern and the impending enforcement deadline of the new Europe-wide data governance legislation – GDPR – brings with it harsher financial penalties for data breaches, not to mention the reputational cost associated with data theft. Organisations need to fully understand the security implications of where they store their data: at one extreme, data held in the cloud is on someone else’s infrastructure with a border you can’t fully control; while at the other end, data stored in a fully-managed and serviced data centre will benefit from the inherent security protocols and procedures that are the bedrock of any reputable data centre. Even if application owners utilise encryption to protect their data in the cloud, there are points during processing on remote servers that this information can be ‘in the clear’ and vulnerable.

2. Data sensitivity: This is an extension of data security but refers to not only the data you are managing, but its jurisdiction and regulatory concerns. GDPR and its enhanced data protection guidelines will have a far-reaching impact and organisations need to be assured about the data they store – how it’s stored, how it’s managed and ease of access. Sensitive data, in particular customer data, is better placed in a data centre environment, where experts are monitoring and managing the data 24/7.

3. Flexibility and agility: A cloud-based approach can help you to be more flexible so you can test and launch products faster and react quicker to changing market conditions (for example, if you’re trialling an IoT solution with a disparate user base). With the cloud, servers can be auto-scaled instantly, rather than having to buy and set up new servers to deal with high demand.

4. Type of compute: When you host data or applications on a server in a data centre, you pay for it all the time – whether it’s busy or not. Very few applications have 100% server utilisation; Gartner has estimated that properly-managed storage infrastructure has server utilisation of less than 15 percent. What we typically say to clients is “bursty suits the cloud”. Cloud supports a flexible and scaling model where services need to flex up and flex down at certain times of the month or year. For example, we work with a number of large online retailers here in NI, which have a huge influx of seasonal traffic but are distinctly quieter throughout the year. We’re also seeing many clients using the cloud as a Disaster Recovery hot standby. In the cloud environment, services are prepped and ready but are idling until (and unless) they are needed.

5. Application migration: Different applications will be better suited to different environments: legacy and custom applications with a contained user base are well suited to a data centre environment. Some applications just aren’t ready for the cloud; large enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, for example, will have features and functionality that depend on on-premise servers. And the cost of integrating and testing these apps to assess their suitability for the cloud, or even the cost to redevelop them to move or port them to the cloud can be prohibitive. Cloud can be better suited to white label, off-the-shelf applications. It is also well suited for web-facing or Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

6. Internal or Web-facing: A key question to ask is “are the services we provide web facing or internal facing?” Web-facing, with its specific demands suits a cloud environment. The advent of content delivery networks (CDNs) allows your bulky content to be distributed across the Internet and close to your target users. Internal facing services however can put additional demands on your connection to the cloud from multiple corporate locations, both in terms of bandwidth and the creation and management of virtual private networks (VPNs) to reach the cloud applications securely. These considerations are also particularly pertinent when taking into account that the open Internet does not support or honour Quality of Service (QoS).

7. Capital or operating costs: This will come down to which model suits your business – capex or opex? It’s worth bearing in mind that cloud typically has no upfront cost, rather its cost is ongoing on a monthly basis. On the other hand, hosting in a data centre is all about the upfront cost. For those managing a budget this can be a significant positive as your cost is well-defined upfront – sometimes cloud services can come with a surprise bill when your services ramp up unexpectedly.

8. Consult an expert: The current innovation in both cloud and data centre create an exciting yet daunting landscape for IT managers planning their IT & application strategy. Network experts like eir Business NI are a great resource to consult when making this decision. We work with organisations to understand their unique requirements and ascertain their business objectives. Each client will have different needs, and as we’ve seen in the seven points above there are several permutations to consider. Because we provide the infrastructure as well as the supporting services (design, installation, ongoing management, monitoring, load balancing, security) we are ideally placed to work with organisations to develop a made-to-measure data centre/cloud strategy.

If you’d like to discuss this topic further and find out how eir Business NI can help, connect with Jarlath at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jarlathmallon