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The essential role of the data centre.

01 Nov 12

In the age of hosted applications, flexible working, smartphones, tablets and BYOD does the business case for running your own data centre still compute?

Or is outsourcing this infrastructure a more sound approach?

Earlier this year research firm Gartner indentified a ‘nexus’ of four forces it predicted would combine to significantly change the technology platform of the future.

This ‘nexus of forces’ is made up of social media, mobility, cloud and big data and according to Garner, it is revolutionising business and society, disrupting old business models.

So how will this confluence of cloud computing, big data, social media & mobility impact how businesses approach data centres?

All four of these factors are intertwined – social media, for instance, is one of the greatest contributors to big data sets, while it is also driven by and simultaneously contributes to the proliferation of smart devices.

However, it is the rise of cloud computing, along with continued growth of virtualisation, and the emergence of a more mobile and flexible workforce, that will have the most immediate impact on how organisations adjust their priorities when it comes to data centre services.

Modern working & the mobile workforce 

An increasingly mobile workforce, demanding more flexibility and freedom to work how and when it best suits them, is driving the demand for tablets and smartphones, along with the bring-your-own-device phenomenon.

According to Gartner, 472 million smartphones and over 60 million tablets were shipped last year.

End users are undoubtedly pushing the demand for tablets and smartphones, as they seek a more flexible and modern workspace. These employees fully subscribe to the notion that work is not a place you go, but a thing you do.

For them the boundaries between business and personal data, devices and applications are at best blurry and at worst non-existent. They want to pick up their device and work from a location and time of their choosing, mixing social and business applications in their work lives.

They use public cloud services, like Dropbox, for personal and even business purposes – regardless of whether these are covered by their employer’s IT policy.

Having all your applications and data locked up in servers that can only be accessed from the comfort of your LAN through stationary desktop end-points will clearly not support the working style of a more mobile workforce.

To cater for the information needs of a flexible workforce, more business data and applications need to be accessible remotely.

Increasingly, therefore, these are hosted in the cloud – be it private or public cloud environments depending on the application and level of security required.

However businesses need to ensure that all of these scenarios are covered by sound and safe IT security, while at the same time ensuring that the user experience is not adversely affected.

Data centres specified to the latest international standards, well defined and highly secure cloud services with appropriate service levels agreements (SLAs) and managed networks allow organisations to outsource infrastructure and security functions to local specialists.

The rise of big data

Meanwhile, as the big data trend intensifies, running their own fleet of servers is becoming a challenge for many businesses – let alone data centres.

According to a Garner report released in October, big data will drive US$28 billion of worldwide IT spending in 2012 and US$34 billion in 2013.

Most of this will be spent on adapting traditional infrastructure and solutions to meet the demand of the big data, from processing data created by machine-to-machine interactions – the so-called ‘internet of things’ - and social media, to handling the wide variety and unpredictable velocity of such data.

Gartner predicts that only US$4.3 billion in software sales will be driven directly by demands for new big data functionality in 2012.

While not a stand-alone market, big data represents an industry-wide market force which must be addressed in products, practices and solution delivery, says Gartner.

Clearly, the immensity of dealing with this will be another factor in driving organisations to outsource to data centre operators with the scale, systems, expertise and dedicated resources to deal with the complexity of big data.

Increasingly, large enterprises and government agencies are choosing to house their own servers in our data centres, in addition to adopting infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings.

Taking advantage of the flexibility of the hosted services enables organisations to easily scale up or down quickly to adjust to the business requirements without time consuming costly hardware purchases and implementations.

In addition, having “non-core” functions outsourced to state-of-the-art data centre facilities, means uptimes are guaranteed above 99%, regular updates are carried out in the background, and security is kept at enterprise grade.

Government agencies like the Department of Corrections are increasingly seeking to outsource their IT functions including their data centre requirements, together with some of the country’s largest organisations, including Westpac and Air New Zealand.

Meanwhile, IaaS is also suitable to meet the needs of corporate clients such as Noel Leeming and CNS Treasury.

These are examples that show that hosted and outsourced services are now not only fully accepted, but are clearly the way for the future of IT as organisations strive to take advantage and manage the risk or supporting a more mobile workforce, in order to increase productivity and create a more attractive workspace.