Reports of Data Center Deaths Are Exaggerated

When going all-in on cloud is the wrong decision, it's up to IT leaders to get their non-technical counterparts to agree. Here are some tips.

Tom Kiblin

May 18, 2020

5 Min Read
Reports of Data Center Deaths Are Exaggerated
(Source: Pixabay)

Enthusiasm for the cloud has led to a common misconception that the data center is dead – or will be soon. In reality, data centers are an increasingly crucial part of most organizations’ infrastructure and will be for the foreseeable future.

Data Centers Aren’t Dead

Part of the problem may be that not everyone defines “data center” in the same way. Broadly, a data center is a location where physical infrastructure (servers, storage appliances, routers, etc.) are placed. There are myriad variables that affect where any given infrastructure element should be placed, from the highly technical to the purely emotional.

Sometimes it’s more cost-effective to keep primary infrastructure and applications in data centers. Sometimes you want the data center to serve as part of your backup strategy. And sometimes, data centers are a critical part of digital transformation when a business moves to the cloud.

Take, for example, a common business goal: Getting all applications, data, and business processes to the cloud. Maybe business leaders want to be able to leverage real-time data to make better decisions; maybe they want to enable net new business processes or serve new customers in new markets. That's all good, but the transition can't and won't happen overnight.

Someone has to refactor, rearchitect, or rewrite applications and datasets to actually work in the cloud. While these projects are underway, your workloads and datasets still need to be available. And guess where they’ll live during that transformation? Data centers.

It’s a common misunderstanding among those outside the IT world that moving to the cloud happens instantaneously, with the flip of a switch. Communicating the reality of the situation is one big hurdle IT leaders have to clear. Another is explaining why moving the business fully to the cloud may not be a great idea, to begin with.

The Problem with Cloud-Only Thinking

For IT leaders, a big challenge with the cloud is that its PR is too good. Media reports tout its ability to cut costs, speed processes, and modernize business operations. What these reports often lack is the acknowledgment that it takes a lot of effort to make the cloud successful for your business and that the cloud isn't right for every workload.

Businesses processes today typically end up in one of three places:

  • A data center

  • A cloud

  • A SaaS platform

And the thing is, there’s no “best” option. If you have to rebuild and refactor every element of your accounts-payable solution to get it to the cloud, maybe it makes more sense to use the AP function in your ERP (i.e., use a SaaS alternative).

If storing a certain frequently used dataset in the cloud would be more expensive and cause more latency than storing it in an on-prem data center, maybe it makes more sense to leave it in the data center.

The cloud has significantly expanded business capabilities — there’s no denying that. It’s a powerful tool and marks an exhilarating departure from what was the status quo. But it is, in fact, a tool. As such, it’s not right for every job. 

Let’s take a look at how IT leaders can get that message across to enthusiastic executives who have heard the cloud hype but aren’t familiar with the technical side of things.

Communicating Cloud Alternatives with Non-IT Leaders

Communication cloud alternatives can be challenging because cloud-enabled has a reputation for being almost magical — and certainly for being superior to the alternatives.

Where do you start? One way to help non-IT leaders understand this is to emphasize, in repeated communications, that moving to the cloud is a process. 

Sometimes metaphors help clarify the message. One that comes to mind here is the process of adapting a book into a movie. You can’t just press a button and “movify” a book. Nor can you sit in front of a camera and read the book aloud, if you want the movie version to provide anything like the emotional experience that the book did. 

There’s a process involved: write a screenplay, build a set, cast actors, rehearse, light, costume, film, edit, score, etc. And because this is a time- and resource-intensive process, we know that not every book should be made into a movie. Some books function far better on the page than they would on screen.

The same is true with moving your business to the cloud. While some applications and datasets might offer exciting operational efficiencies if adapted for the cloud, others pose too much risk. Consequently, these environments make more sense in data centers. The key messaging to communicate is that adaptation is a process — not a button you can press.

Complex Organizations Require Complex Infrastructure

Because many C-suite leaders don’t have a technical background and popular media often oversimplifies IT topics, we tend to be less realistic in our expectations for technology. Still, IT leaders need buy-in from CEOs and CFOs to deliver the solutions they recommend.

By clearly and consistently communicating the key points outlined here, CXOs should be able to help non-tech leaders understand the need for diverse infrastructure that includes data centers, SaaS offerings, and yes, sometimes, the cloud.

About the Author(s)

Tom Kiblin

Tom Kiblin is the vice president of cloud and managed services at ServerCentral Turing Group (SCTG). SCTG offers cloud-native software development, AWS consulting, cloud infrastructure, and global data center services.

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