It has been suggested that the Cloud is like teenage romance: Everyone is talking about it, but few are doing it, and even fewer are doing it right.
The vast majority of global enterprises today have in one way or another raised the prospect of a move to the Cloud. Yet fewer than 29 percent expect to be running the majority of their IT operations in the Cloud within the next 5 years. Fact is that everyone’s talking about the Cloud, but few have defined it, much less created a strategy around it . Why? Because you can’t very well migrate well if you don’t know what to pack.
Yet the promise of the Cloud is very real; the opportunities that a Cloud model presents can be significant for the enterprise that gets it right. To get from here to there, the first order of business is to define what the Cloud really is, then to understand the opportunities it presents, and finally to understand the essential role of the software-defined data center.
What, exactly, is the Cloud?
Cloud computing, of course, is the practice of using remote servers, accessed through the Internet, for storing, managing, and processing data. In other words, instead of using your computer’s hard drive or the servers in the server closet down the hall from your office to run applications and store data, you’re using servers managed by a cloud service provider, and located in their data center. That’s a key point–no matter how you access it, the Cloud itself is equipment in a data center. For consumers, the Cloud is everywhere, whether we recognize it or not. YouTube, Netflix, Hulu – the Cloud. Gmail, Dropbox, Skype – all Cloud. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – you guessed it, Cloud.
Within the enterprise, the Cloud is increasingly common but not nearly as prevalent as in the consumer space. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications like Salesforce.com, Jive, and Office365 are Cloud-based enterprise applications. So the Enterprise Cloud is the same as the Cloud we know as consumers, in principle, but its requirements – for agility, reliability, security, and sustainability – are more rigorous. For enterprise especially, the data center matters.
For example, consumer reliability can mean the difference between binge watching Breaking Bad tonight, or not. For the enterprise, a lack of reliability can mean the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, thanks perhaps to a downed trading platform. Where security for consumers can mean a Nigerian email scam slipping into the inbox, for enterprises it can mean serious penalties for running afoul of legal requirements like Sarbanes-Oxley.
This is not to diminish the importance of world-class data centers to the consumer segment—webscale service providers are, after all, enterprises—but to highlight the fact that complex, risk-averse global businesses have more rigorous standards and expectations for the agility, reliability, security, and sustainability of the Cloud. This is exactly the reason that out of the 100 percent of enterprises “thinking” about moving to the Cloud, just 29 percent are actually planning on it. Yet for the organizations that can figure out how to get the agility, reliability, security, and sustainability they expect through the Enterprise Cloud, there are tremendous rewards to be gained.
Enterprise Cloud: The Benefits
For CEOs and executives running lines of business, one of the significant benefits offered by Enterprise Cloud is business agility. Within most enterprises, the ability to move fast is not within IT’s vocabulary. Legacy investments in very expensive branded hardware and huge upfront, fixed capital costs associated with data center construction have made enterprise IT more like a cargo freighter than a speedboat.
As a result, when – for example – Sales wants to enable its field team to access the company’s CRM from their mobile devices, IT is often not well-equipped to respond. When the customer service team wants to launch a new app enabling customers to track their orders, IT can often only respond with a very high price tag and a very long implementation timeframe. As a result, the lines of business go around IT, directly to service providers like Salesforce.com or cloud providers like Amazon Web Services to meet their needs. That makes data security incredibly difficult for enterprise IT to manage; this phenomenon, known as shadow IT, is a significant and growing risk for the enterprise.
With Enterprise Cloud, IT can provide fast responses to those line-of-business needs, paying for the IT as a service instead of fronting huge capital expenses and lead times for additional data center capacity. That allows the enterprise to take innovations to market more quickly and, often, more cost-efficiently. And that creates competitive advantage over the 70 percent of enterprises still running on legacy IT models. For CEOs, that’s great news, because companies can effectively capitalize on competitive advantages to deliver more value to shareholders.
The “Where” matters when it comes to Cloud
Not every Cloud provider can deliver on the promise of business agility. That’s because where the Cloud lives matters; for the promise of the Enterprise Cloud to be fully realized, it must live within a software-defined data center – where the compute, storage, and network infrastructure resides.
In 2011, venture capital legend and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called “Why Software is Eating the World.” He talked about all the ways that software defines everyday activities. “More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services – from movies to agriculture to national defense.”
Software has eaten much more of our world in the two years since Andreessen’s op-ed; we now have cars, thermostats, and refrigerators, plus power plants, agricultural equipment, and military gear that are software-defined. Why? Because efficiency can be maximized through software-enabled monitoring and control.
From cars to power plants to the data center, software-defined means that the underlying infrastructure components have been virtualized and made accessible through programming interfaces that enable remote and automated provisioning, operation, and management of the infrastructure. In the data center, that means the operator can automate tasks that were previously manual, such as spinning fans up or down, or transferring workloads. The IT owner can remotely provision new services or de-provision existing services, or compartmentalize users and applications. That kind of automation and remote control is not possible in the traditional data center, which is not software-defined.
The promise of the Enterprise Cloud – business agility – depends on the agility, sustainability, reliability, and security of the software-defined data center at the foundation of the Cloud. Without agility in the data center, the promise of fast provisioning and de-provisioning of IT assets cannot be realized. Without sustainability, Cloud service providers will never be able to accommodate burgeoning demand. Without reliability and security, enterprises won’t risk a full move to the Cloud.
Simply put, an Enterprise Cloud that enables business agility doesn’t exist without a software-defined data center.