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In the age of cloud, should you invest in a data center upgrade?

Before you rush to replace servers with more of the same, consider your organization's long-term goals and whether a move to the cloud might be the better option.

The public cloud continues to mature into a robust business platform. Companies are starting to move core services,...

such as email and office applications, to cloud-based versions, helping improve flexibility and scalability. While this might be ideal from a business perspective, what happens to your existing data center in the new cloud-based world? Do you delay a data center upgrade or continue to invest in infrastructure that might become obsolete?

The hardware-based data center we have known for many years has already been under attack for some time now. Virtualization was the first blow, leading to a consolidation of large swaths of equipment and shrinking physical server footprints into a fraction of their former size. Racks of servers gave way to hypervisors, and now software-defined networking is going after the network infrastructure. Hyper-converged platforms are starting to displace storage frames and fiber gear as the physical equipment in the data center continues to shrink. Is the cloud the final nail in the coffin of the physical data center? It might not be the final nail, but for some, it’s coming close.

Determine the desired level of control

A key question to ask is: Why do we need an on-premises data center in the first place? While security might have been a concern a few years ago, for many, it is now a nonissue with the advancements in cloud security. On-premises infrastructure is less about security and more about control. When you want, or are required, to have control of your applications or data, then you need an on-premises data center. If you require this level of control, then you should continue with a data center upgrade. However, for those that might prefer, but don’t require, control, the story is much different.

When you want, or are required, to have control of your applications or data, then you need an on-premises data center.

These folks must answer a challenging question: How much is control worth? A data center upgrade is not cheap. Hardware typically requires large capital expenses, which can be more difficult to sell to management than the stable operational costs associated with the cloud. This argument is also hindered by the ideal of control. We often hear about the concept that IT can have more control over in-house applications. While that is true in principle, it only works in practice if the applications are entirely in-house. Many applications pull from multiple servers, services and sources, and not all are entirely under IT control.

Organizations must also consider the support aspect of maintaining control. Controlling an application may not mean much if you don’t have the infrastructure -- including personnel -- to fully support the application. Control is often a lot harder and more expensive to maintain than we think, and that is where the business needs to get involved to weigh the benefits and risks. It's up to IT to spell out those tradeoffs because today’s modern applications are often a web of connected resources.

Cloud migration depends on bandwidth

While this all might seem like doom and gloom for the data center, there are a few things to consider before you start to dismantle and recycle your servers. While cloud-based applications continue to grow, our access to them has not kept up in terms of internet connections and speeds. Pushing everything to the cloud only works if you have enough bandwidth to meet your needs, and that becomes the hidden challenge. I have seen, firsthand, the consequences of an organization moving a web-based application to the cloud without considering network bandwidth. The migration resulted in 10,000 people going from accessing an internal resource with 1 Gbps network speeds to an external connection of half that speed, shared with all the other internet traffic from those 10,000 people. Decision-makers overlooked the connection speed and instead focused on the capital savings found by avoiding a data center upgrade in favor of the operational expenses of the cloud.

So, as you look at a data center upgrade or move applications from in-house to the cloud, consider the many factors aside from cost. A key starting point is to look at it from both the business's and end user’s perspectives. Not upgrading your data center in favor of the cloud changes support models, resource use and cost models. These factors combine to give you a complete picture of the decision’s effect. Any change to your data center is a fundamental change to a business driver, so the business will feel the effect whether it is positive or negative. Change is always disruptive.

Next Steps

Step-by-step guide to managing a server refresh

Virtualization can extend server update cycles

Selecting the best hardware for a virtualization project

This was last published in June 2017

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