As I write this column it is only a few days before my daughter’s wedding. So if it seems that this has “slightly” influenced this column, please grant me some literary license (or at least sympathy, as a classic “father of the bride”).
The relationship between IT and the physical data center has been sort of a shotgun marriage (I won’t say who was pointing the shotgun). Nonetheless, over the years it has been rocky at times, and especially so, as the partners seem to age at different rates.
The bride, IT, constantly keeps itself exciting, refreshed, and young looking via equipment and software “facelifts” every three years or so. Meanwhile the facility plods on faithfully, unchanging year after year, unconditionally supporting its more flamboyant mate by keeping IT’s equipment physically secure and continuously supplying conditioned power, as well as keeping IT equipment cool no matter how excited and hot IT tends to get.
IT tends to be trendy and more adventurous and in some ways perhaps a bit unfaithful to its partner. When the old facility can no longer support the ever rising or sudden demands by IT for more power and cooling, IT seems to have started flirtatious affairs with mysterious strangers who hide in the clouds.
Not everyone wants to get into a long-term relationship, and like people, some IT architects have chosen to try to avoid being married to the data center. Instead, they have searched for less permanent and more open and flexible relationships with cloud service providers. While cloud service offers a potentially attractive proposition to the CEO, CFO, CIO, and CTO, since it removes the presumed need to owning and maintaining both the IT hardware, as well as the data center, it may not be the utopia or ephemeral solution that cloud computing presents itself as. While there are advantages to this when all the parties involved understand the rules of this “open” relationship, there can be downsides when the romance with the “cloud” is suddenly jarred by a service outage or security breach. This is not to say that the traditional data center “marriage” relationship is perfect. However, like a long-term partner, you get to know their strengths and weaknesses and can hopefully work out mutually satisfactory solutions by working together.
While just as society has changed its views on relationships and the need for marriage, the relationship between IT and the traditional data center facility has also begun to evolve. Long-term commitments to a fixed resource may not be flexible enough or cost effective to meet a constantly changing IT environment, which is now moving very rapidly toward operating in a highly virtualized structure that, in effect, allows IT architects and programmers to divorce themselves from the physical IT hardware.
Data center facilities people are used to working with specific, stable, well-defined, long-term requirements and then designing, building, and properly supporting the facility and infrastructure systems. In sharp contrast, in many cases, IT has been tasked to rapidly respond to ever changing consumer driven demands and has been forced to work around or augment their traditional data center partner’s fixed capacities. In some cases by using a hybrid of public-private cloud-based resources to meet highly variable or sudden demands. Or like some, getting divorced and leaving their mate entirely by moving to a pure cloud-based model.
Of course, underlying every cloud service is a real data center; however it may have a somewhat different design and operational mandates. Unlike an enterprise or colo data center, which is tied to a more traditional fixed tier type structure, it is primarily designed to support standardized OEM IT hardware. Cloud service providers have no such mandates, they only need to provide services, typically on a massive scale, and in some cases utilize custom manufactured proprietary hardware. This abstracts both the IT hardware, as well as the physical data center from the equation. Under the category of “something borrowed and something new,” this new paradigm of computing resources as a service is not new and even goes back to the early mainframe days of “time-sharing” via remote access via “dumb” terminals (instead of web browsers and smart-phones).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ultimately the product of IT and the physical data center is the real reason they were originally married to support their “child;” the availability of data services, and the applications and access to information contained in storage. Statistically speaking, approximately half of all marriages end in divorce for any number of reasons. If IT’s new “partner” is to be the cloud, then so be it. Hopefully, they will be able to reliably and successfully deliver these services, as well as (or perhaps better than) the old, seeming necessary “marriage of inconvenience” that typically represents the classic, somewhat contentious relationship of IT vs. facilities.
Successful partnerships take work, so even if the new relationship is no longer a traditional marriage of IT and the data center, there are great expectations by all the parties involved and there may be some disappointments ahead as issues get worked out.
So while I think that having stretched the somewhat whimsical marriage analogies as far as I can, all I can say is best wishes to the new couple during their honeymoon, in the clouds.