Clouds vs. Data Centres: Are Data Centres Really Dying?

Written by Anthony Carter, MD, Connotations Publishing Ltd. Published 2021-10-26 07:34:54

There was a time when the biggest debate in the technology world was Microsoft vs Apple. Those days are long gone. Today, the big argument is data centre vs cloud. One expert tells you that your company needs the cloud. Another insists you need a better data centre. Still others suggest that your data centre needs a cloud or vice-versa.

So where do we stand? It's a critical question to answer given the fact that experts were predicting the demise of the traditional data centre as recently as 2018. But here we are, three years later, and data centres are still going strong. So strong that an October 2020 Gartner report estimated the data centre market would grow to some $200 billion in 2021 alone. The report predicts continued growth through at least 2024.

Just a misunderstanding?

Could the dire predictions of the data centre's future be a mere misunderstanding? Perhaps. It could boil down to the fact that people discussing data centres and clouds do not understand the fundamental differences between them. Suffice to say that 'data centre' and 'cloud' are not interchangeable terms.

Defining the Data Centre

A data centre is a physical location housing the hardware and infrastructure necessary to store and transmit data over a network. There are two types of data centres, beginning with the in-house version. In-house data centres used to be the only game in town.

Some companies still prefer in-house data centres because they guarantee locally available data as long as the LAN continues to work. On the downside, data may be inaccessible remotely if internet access goes down.

The other type of data centre is the remote data centre. In a remote setting, a company's hardware and infrastructure is housed in a building separate from their own. Note that a remote data centre doesn't have to be thousands of miles away. It could be on the other side of town, or nearer. It is remote because it is separate from the organisation that utilises it.

Defining the Cloud

The cloud is a computing environment located in a remote location, with multiple backups scattered in other locations to provide redundancy. Where data centres exist in physical buildings, cloud environments exist on servers. This is the fundamental difference between the two.

In a practical sense, the cloud's main advantage is uptime. By its nature, a cloud's built-in redundancy virtually guarantees that hosted applications and data will always be available unless the entire internet crashes. By contrast, data centres without sufficient backup capabilities are theoretically subject to increased downtime.

Can you have one without the other?

As to the question of whether or not data centres are really dying, it boils down to whether or not you can have one without the other. To illustrate this point, consider Microsoft Office 365. It is a cloud application. But where is it hosted? The application and all of its data are hosted on servers all around the world. Those servers are located in data centres.

Likewise, Google offers its own office suite along with a load of additional cloud applications for both consumers and businesses. All of those applications and their associated data are stored on Google servers in Google data centres. Do you see where this is going?

It is not really possible to have large-scale cloud computing without data centres supporting them. Servers and network infrastructure have to be housed somewhere.

What is it really about?

When you strip away the marketing and get right to the technical details, the debate between data centres and the cloud is really a disagreement over local vs remote hosting. It's not a stretch to say that in-house data centres are gradually losing their appeal. With so much of the world now operating in the cloud, locally hosted applications on in-house servers struggle to keep up.

In that sense, you could make the case that the data centre is dying – but only the in-house kind. Remote data centres are alive and well. They continue to host the data and applications that power the world. They even host all those cloud environments that experts love to talk about.

If you are considering ditching your in-house data centre in favour of cloud computing, think things over very carefully. You may be better off sticking with your current set up but just moving it to a colocation or data centre provider. Despite what the cloud computing evangelists say, moving to the cloud isn't always the best option.

While you are thinking that over, rest assured that the data centre isn't dying. It isn't going anywhere for the foreseeable future. If it does, say goodbye to the cloud as well. You cannot have a cloud if you don't have servers to host it and network infrastructure to run it.

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