Time to Join the In and Out Club?

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published 2018-06-13 07:36:46

There was a time when the word ‘hybrid’ was not always used in a complimentary way. Describing something as ‘hybrid’ was a little bit like calling someone a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’. Hybrid had bits of everything, but the overall whole object was not as beautiful/useful/well-constructed as something designed for a single, rather than mixed, purpose. However, where Cloud has led (I still think that the negative connotations of clouds are not always helpful when it comes to extolling the virtues of Cloud Computing), hybrid follows.

Hybrid cars have been followed by Hybrid Cloud and, more generally, hybrid IT - and now, already well into view, comes the hybrid data centre. Or, maybe we should call it the multi data centre, as Multi Cloud seems to be stepping on Hybrid Cloud’s toes.

Anyhow, the name really doesn’t matter – hybrid data centre, multi data centre, extended data centre, what’s important is the concrete reality behind the title. Data centre and IT students will be only too familiar with what might be termed the ‘hokey-cokey’ history of their industry. In, out, shake it all about – more properly characterised as the apparently endless switch between centralised and distributed infrastructure.

No sooner has everyone followed the latest trend and consolidated their data centre and IT infrastructure into large, centralised locations, than it’s time to distribute this infrastructure back out to more local locations. And then someone comes up with a compelling reason to centralise everything again…

Well, at the risk of holding myself up to ridicule in a few years’ time, I would like to suggest, if not assert, that we have now reached a point in time where a combination of In and Out, or hybrid, data centre and IT infrastructure makes perfect sense and, this is the dangerous bit, should make sense for many, many years to come, if not quite for eternity. After all, eventually each individual – human or robot – will contain their own data centre/IT infrastructure, so we’ll be in the world of mobile data centres.

The massive consolidation phase that the data centre industry has undergone in recent years made perfect sense. Indeed, it still does. Removing servers from remote offices, reducing, say, 40 data centres into five larger, more central facilities, taking away the need for data centre and IT expertise and expense right across an enterprise’s physical footprint has provided significant cost savings and efficiencies and, most importantly, actually improved the performance and reliability of many data centres and the IT infrastructure which they house. Technology advances – better, cheaper, faster bandwidth; higher density, faster servers and storage amongst them – have made this consolidated world possible.

And it’s thanks to the next wave of technology developments that this consolidated data centre world is being joined by the need for more specialised, local or edge data centre and IT infrastructure. The Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) – a set of technologies in need of a collective title – are placing a new set of demands on the data centre. Enterprise automation, if that’s what we may call it, requires fast, real-time data processing. Fast as in, by the time the data has been sent back to a central data centre, processed and a response returned, it’s too late.

Autonomous vehicles are the favourite example of this need for speed. If we really are to trust ourselves to driverless cars, then we want to be sure that the data processing is taking place at a real-time, local level and not via a data centre several hundred, or even thousands, of miles away.

Leaving aside this example, most if not all industry sectors can see the huge potential of interacting with actual and potential customers in real-time, as they pass by or enter a shop, an office, a transport hub or any other business location. Millions of mobile communications devices (everything from the smallest sensors right up to mobiles and tablets) will be sending and receiving millions, trillions and zillions of data bytes. Speed and accuracy will be crucial.

And so, this is how we are entering the hybrid data centre era. Not only will organisations almost certainly have a mixture of in-house, colocation and Cloud data centre and/or IT infrastructure resources, they will also have a combination of large, centralised facilities/IT and small/micro edge data centres housing, maybe a single server and some direct attached storage.

Connectivity – resilience, bandwidth, speed – will be a further, crucial part of this In/Out world.

Of course, the clever bit will be knowing which applications to put where, and when. And that’s where the existing orchestration tools will need to become increasingly sophisticated to ensure that, at any moment in time, any particular application is available in the optimum location – taking into account the various priorities of finance, resource availability, end user location(s), safety and opportunity (no doubt there are other considerations which can be added to this list).

There’s every chance that colocation data centres will become more and more important in this hybrid world as they’ll be able to meet the need for local, edge data centre infrastructure for more effectively and efficiently than most end user organisations doing it for themselves.

Just another example of the compelling trend whereby end users should be concentrating on what they do best, whatever industry they are in, and leveraging the expertise of the data centre and IT providers to ensure that this best really is the best.

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