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Gartner opinion: The data centre is dead

27 Jul 18

Article by Gartner infrastructure team managing vice president and chief of research David J. Cappuccio

Infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders today face a daunting challenge. The IT they have known for decades is changing — radically.

IT’s primary function will be to enable the business to be more agile, to enter new markets more quickly, to deliver services closer to the customer, and to position specific workloads based on business, regulatory and geopolitical impacts.

The role of the traditional data centre is being relegated to that of a legacy holding area, dedicated to very specific services than cannot be supported elsewhere, or supporting those systems that are most economically efficient on-premises.

As interconnect services, cloud providers, the Internet of Things (IoT), edge services and SaaS offerings continue to proliferate, the rationale to stay in a traditional data centre topology will have limited advantages.

This is not an overnight shift, but an evolutionary change in thinking in how we deliver services to our customers and to the business.

Our planning assumption: By 2025, 80% of enterprises will have shut down their traditional data centre, versus 10% today.

However, enterprise computing still needs to evolve. As one CIO recently said to me; “My data centre? It’s everywhere and anywhere I need to place compute capability to enable my business.”

The key impacts of this change are as follows:

  • Workload placement in a digital infrastructure is based on business need, not constrained by physical location.
  • I&O leaders must build an ecosystem of service partners to help enable scalable, agile infrastructures.
  • Distributed digital infrastructure management will provide the tools for I&O to monitor and manage any asset or process, anywhere, at any time, enabling a successful transition to digital business.
  • The movement to digital infrastructure will result in radically increased complexity for I&O so staff must be retrained, with a focus on versatility.

Workload Placement Will Become the Key Driver of Digital Infrastructure Delivery

Traditionally, when business units requested new applications (or services), many IT organisations would first ask themselves, “How can we build this application to fit within our architecture?” While this strategy has worked for completely IT-controlled, on-premises environments, it becomes self- constraining over time, as the architecture may not adapt quickly to evolving business requirements.

Many organisations that are developing digital infrastructure delivery strategies are wrestling with  the issue of cloud adoption. Successful I&O leaders are focused on business value, rather than cloud adoption, as a goal. I&O leaders are therefore beginning to build IT strategies with a focus on their application portfolio, rather than on the physical infrastructure, moving away from traditional IT- architecture-driven decisions toward a service-driven strategy.

With the recent increase in business-driven IT initiatives, often outside of the traditional IT budget, there has been a rapid growth in implementations of IoT solutions, edge compute environments and “nontraditional” IT.

There has also been an increased focus on customer experience with outward- facing applications, and on the direct impact of poor customer experience on corporate reputation.

This outward focus is causing many organisations to rethink placement of certain applications based on network latency, customer population clusters and geopolitical limitations (for example, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] or regulatory restrictions).

An Ecosystem Will Be Required to Enable Scalable, Agile Infrastructures

The new digital ecosystem can be homegrown, and developed in conjunction with key service providers.

The deployment of this distributed digital infrastructure begins by agreeing on the business-related benefits that can be attained for each application workload and its associated data.

These benefits can include reduced latency, improved customer experience, enhanced corporate reputation, stronger service continuity, geodiversity, improved compliance or mandated data location residency requirements.

When answering these questions, take into account not only what the IT infrastructure can deliver today, but also what is available on the market that you can leverage — either colocation, hosting or cloud. More importantly, ask how a service partner can be leveraged to provide you enhanced services when needed.

An emerging trend in the colocation market has been the introduction of enhanced services that go well beyond traditional power, floor space and support services.

These enhanced services include carrier neutrality, cloud-enabled services, access to multiple cloud services via secure networks, cross-connects to partners on the same premises, or interconnect fabrics to other sites or services.

By using these fabrics, enterprise customers could have access to many different providers and services and be able to switch between or swap services when contracts or performance requirements change.

Moving between providers today is not a simple task. Expect enhanced colocation providers to offer a software-defined networking (SDN) layer above these fabrics, thus providing a seamless mechanism for moving between services for their customers. In this manner, colocation providers could become an integral part of your digital infrastructure, so the development of clearly defined SLAs, key performance indicators (KPIs) and contractual obligations is imperative.

As digital business evolves, the need for geodiversity is evolving as well. Data location, regulatory requirements (such as GDPR) and customer requirements (such as low latency) all may drive the need for workloads to be accessible from multiple locations. A partner ecosystem that supports strong interconnection services can be a key enabler for these workloads.

Data centre interconnection is a model in which discrete assets within a multi-tenant data centre are connected to each other directly and in a peer-to-peer fashion.

These connections may be as simple as intrasite cross-connects, but can allow data-centre-based assets to horizontally connect to multiple carriers, cloud providers, peers and service providers.

Distributed Digital Infrastructure Management Emerges as the Key Enabler for I&O’s Transition to Digital Business

As enterprises move toward distributed digital infrastructures, one of the key pain points will be operational process and tools. I&O has become great at managing silos, but staffs tend to see the world from the construct of silos of servers, storage, networking, virtualisation, applications and so on.

In distributed environments with a hybrid mix of sourcing and architectures, the physical location of an asset (or process) will not be as clearly defined, and yet its attributes, performance, KPIs and cost will have an increasingly important impact on how I&O delivers services to end customers.

Ultimately, I&O remains responsible for both the assets and the end-user experience, and will need tools to actively monitor and manage any asset or process, anywhere, at any time.

Digitalisation’s impact can best be observed in the emergence of newer technologies and products providing an advanced analytical foundation (such as artificial intelligence for IT operations [AIOps]) and increasingly relevant monitoring technologies (digital experience monitoring, collective intelligence benchmarking, unified communications monitoring and so on) that supports both experience management and delivery automation functions.

These are critical to enabling IT operations management (ITOM) teams to manage a continuously growing and diverse set of technologies, including those with disruptive impact (for example, IoT, wireless networking, cloud and software-defined networking).

IT Talent Management and Retraining Existing Staff Are the Critical Success Factors

I&O leaders are faced with a seemingly impossible challenge — to develop their staff skills to deliver against the business demand, amid a new and unfamiliar level of infrastructure complexity.

They cannot afford to lose staff, yet have restrictions placed on new head count at a time when they feel like 10 times as many resources are needed, especially those with institutional knowledge.

For most leaders, this represents a headache on top of every other headache, as they are faced with the challenges of implementing, understanding and supporting new layers of integration, orchestration, customisation and configuration.

In parallel, existing teams must deliver what they have been doing to date, but also find ways to work harmoniously with others in a bimodal environment that supports the aims of a digital business. So much more is demanded of individuals, to the point where they are only able to focus on the immediate issue in front of them.

Thus, they fall into the siloed nature of thinking and behaving. All this is occurring at a time when the business appetite for the pace of change and the complexity of infrastructures and technology solutions are at an all-time high.

IT Leaders must develop staff versatility, complementing vertical expertise with the additional capabilities needed. When the business view of a service relies on infrastructure provided by multiple vendors, making the right decisions requires broad thinking, often beyond a single technology silo.

As IT moves toward the realm of an ecosystem of partners, connecting the business to the right provider and adding value to this particular relationship requires broad understanding of both parties in the brokering relationship.

Therefore, in distributed digital infrastructures, the added skills required from a versatilist include two critical areas — business knowledge and provider knowledge — and must also be underpinned by the ability to build rapport.

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