You may not be as old as me and remember that day in the early 80’s when MTV burst onto the scene. I was glued to the TV with the rest of my friends as we watched music come to life through video. Many pundits at the time predicted MTV to be the death of radio music stations.
So pardon me when I raised eyebrows at a different set of pundits proclaiming the death of the data center when cloud burst onto the IT scene. What have we learned over the past few years? Did companies lay off their entire IT staffs and close their data centers?
The basic fact is that cloud computing, however you define it, is not revolutionary. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), “cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
This is simply an evolution of earlier capabilities for enterprises to provide similar services to internal customers through the use of mainframe computers (remember the death knell sounded for them as well?). Granted, in the earlier days of mainframe computing, the sharing was confined to the walls of the enterprise given the World Wide Web came much later. However, the concepts for cloud computing were born in these earlier days of computing when price and availability of skilled labor necessitated that computer resources be shared across an organization and paid for by the divisions based on usage. Okay, maybe there was a revolution in rapid provisioning between the mainframe and today’s definition of cloud, or maybe that was just an uprising of frustrated users who had to wait weeks to even get a green screen terminal placed on their desk.
The first real shot across the bow of the traditional data center came when Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software company Salesforce.com began in a small San Francisco apartment and “the end of software” revolution begins. The advent of SaaS really did have the potential to disrupt traditional data centers and sourcing patterns. Suddenly, companies had an option to use mission-critical enterprise software that didn’t require any additional computers in the data center. More importantly, business units discovered Salesforce.com and began directly purchasing CRM “seats” without the knowledge or backing of their IT organization.
Guess what? IT departments didn’t go away. Instead, they caught on to the “rogue applications” which were appearing throughout the company. Typically this happened when these users realized that in order for their new whiz-bang application to be truly useful, it need to share information with another system which was managed by IT. And so began the integration of SaaS into the traditional IT realm of enterprise computing.
Corporate IT departments around the world have also learned to embrace the cloud and the focus has shifted to private clouds and hybrid clouds. This is an acknowledgement that the traditional data center is not going away. From the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” book, major cloud infrastructure providers such as Citrix, Microsoft and VMware all tout the use of their virtualization platforms for establishing private clouds in the data center.
So what we’ve learned is that the pundits that called for the death of the data center were about as right as those who predicted that video would kill the radio star (and as I sit here listening to Steppenwolf rocking out Magic Carpet Ride on my local classic rock station, I’m sure glad they were wrong). Till next time . .