Enterprises Look to Alternatives to Centralized Data Center Infrastructure in 2013

January 2, 2013 7 Comments »
Enterprises Look to Alternatives to Centralized Data Center Infrastructure in 2013

This past year was all about build-out. Across the globe, we witnessed a record expansion of data centers, many of which were built to support the growing cloud-computing industry. According to Emerson Network Power, there are 500,000 data centers worldwide, covering square footage that would equal about 6,000 football fields. And every day, the news heralds new data centers being constructed, not only by the cloud titans like Google, Amazon and Microsoft, but also by global enterprises, telecom giants, and colocation providers. A big driver behind this trend was of course data growth and the big-data wave, with companies struggling to manage, analyze, store and secure their rising tide of digital data.

As I’ve discussed at Data Center World and many other events, this massive centralized infrastructure should be giving us economy of scale. And yet we are seeing significant dis-economies of scale, such as huge untapped capacity, empty colo space, a continued increase in power costs and questionable reliability, to name just a few. And companies became creative in an attempt to cut costs, such as Facebook’s move to build in the arctic and use natural cooling, or the setup by Microsoft and others of server farms in countryside with healthy wind or hydropower.

In 2012, I predicted that the “green” cloud would be debunked, and although cloud vendors continue to herald green IT, the idea that cloud computing as an industry is green came into question last year, and loudly. The New York Times came out with its investigative report, “Power, Pollution and the Internet,” and Greenpeace released a comprehensive report and green index for cloud computing. The Greenpeace report suggested that cloud-computing data centers account for about two percent of the world’s carbon footprint; the New York Times article claimed data centers worldwide use about 30 billion watts of electricity, which is roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.

In 2013, we will see a slowdown in centralized infrastructure construction, even as digital data continues its exponential climb. This is because companies will step back and evaluate the service levels they are receiving from cloud infrastructure and explore new distributed and decentralized approaches that enable better utilization of what we already have, as well as provide better intelligence from our data. Companies will also place their vote squarely in the so-called hybrid cloud, where the emphasis is on a mixture of on-premise and cloud solutions that are integrated and extend existing infrastructure and core competencies.

Here are some specific trends we will see in the coming year in relation to cloud computing and data management.

  1. Big Data Gets Bigger: No end is in sight for the wave of digital-data growth we are experiencing across all industries and company sizes. Much of this data is a result of what Gartner calls the “Nexus of Forces,” or the convergence of social, mobile and cloud information, which makes the upward trajectory of data volumes unstoppable. As enterprises attempt to wrangle control and manage these growing data sets, they will spend more on solutions that help them improve overall data protection, including access controls, as well as gain intelligence and competitive advantages from the data. We will see a further lift in big-data solutions, particularly in areas that enable fast business information and dynamic, automated actions. In addition, the heightened sensitivity around who is accessing corporate data and how that affects compliance and overall security will motivate companies to better understand their data types and categorize them, such as mission-critical, business-critical, sensitive or archival data. This will in turn affect the storage decisions we make, both on-premise and cloud-based.
  2. Enterprises Embrace Distributed and Decentralized Approaches: To counter this infrastructure build-out and find new ways to implement big data, nascent distributed and decentralized models will gain broader acceptance in 2013. Part of this movement will also be driven by an attempt by companies to be more “green,” to better utilize existing infrastructure and, perhaps most importantly, to achieve higher global resiliency. Enterprises will look beyond just virtualization and embrace solutions that enable parallel processing, distributed databases, agile storage and highly scalable architectures. The big winners here will be the Hadoop ecosystem, Mongo DB and other open-source NoSQL databases, and OpenStack and other community open cloud platforms, such as Eucalyptus. Companies will also invest more in colocation facilities, such as Savvis or Switch, rather than building own their own data centers, even when implementing private-cloud solutions.
  3. The Hybrid Cloud Moves Beyond the Hype: Over the past couple of years, we have been so focused on private versus public cloud, or on-premise versus cloud. As enterprises move from cloud pondering to actual implementations, the winner will be the hybrid cloud and vendors who can help companies better utilize what they are already have within their networks, using both private- and public-cloud implementations. Cloud gateways, API infrastructure and services around hybrid-cloud implementation will also see increased spending in 2013. Furthermore, the emphasis noted above on data classification and storage will drive growth in the young cloud-storage on-ramp market. Movements in this direction include Microsoft’s acquisition of StorSimple in 2012 and actions by major traditional hardware vendors, such as Citrix, Dell, HP and major network-attached storage (NAS) vendors, to embrace the cloud and extend their on-premise devices to cloud services. Capabilities such as single sign-on (SSO), strong data encryption and overall storage management will become more critical with this trend. The 451 Group has written an excellent overview on the cloud-storage on-ramp market.
  4. SLAs Replace Cost as the Key Value Quotient for Public Cloud: Major outages in 2012 at many of the large public cloud platforms, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Apple iCloud, GoDaddy, Rackspace, Microsoft and others, turned attention from agility and cost to service-level agreements (SLAs). In fact, the cloud’s position as the “cheaper” alternative has been blown, as cloud economics has shown it’s often not true, and the total cost of ownership is now leading the charge. In 2013, the main value pillar and negotiation point for companies with their cloud vendors will be SLAs. And enterprises will be willing to pay more for higher SLAs to support mission-critical operations. That’s because companies cannot afford the level of downtime we saw last year. According to the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of data center downtime across all industries was approximately $5,600 per minute. With the average reported incident lasting 90 minutes, that equals a cost per incident of approximately $505,500. In addition to the value side, the outages are driving companies to be smarter about how they architect their infrastructure on cloud-provider platforms, building in greater failover and redundancy.
  5. Public-Cloud Services for Collaboration and File Sharing Will Come Under IT’s Control: With BYOD and continued consumerization of enterprise IT, we saw a huge proliferation of cloud usage outside of IT control. This so-called shadow IT or rogue device/cloud usage will undergo a reality check in 2013 as IT managers implement new access-control rules as well as policies around overall usage of public clouds in corporate environments. Although we will not go back to the days of the BlackBerry standard for corporate devices, there will be an increased focus on standard applications and images for smartphones and other mobile devices, including laptops and tablets. The greatest risk to corporate compliance has been public-cloud services for collaboration, storage and file sharing, where employees can send documents to literally anyone inside or outside the organization with no IT oversight. This situation has created a compliance nightmare, and 2013 will be the year IT attempts to regain control with policies that actually have a bite in order to achieve stronger governance. This is particularly true for high-compliance industries, such as health care and finance, but we will see this trend across all areas.

Leading article photo courtesy of

About the Author

Margaret Dawson discusses her predictions for data center infrastructure in 2013Margaret Dawson is a 20-year high-tech industry veteran and cloud expert. She is a frequent author and speaker on cloud computing, big data, network security, integration and other business and technology themes. Currently, Margaret is vice president of product management and marketing at Symform.


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