Back from the dead: How the data centre of tomorrow is adapting to changing needs

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It’s been said that “the data centre of the future is one you don’t own.”

That opinion is not a rare one. Across the globe, the decreasing numbers of on-premise data centres being built has spurred the idea that the data centre is dead. 

But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the data centre’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Instead, changing organisational requirements have had an enormous impact on what businesses need from their data centres – and data centres have adapted to meet them.

So, what has happened?

Impact of COVID-19 on cloud

It’s no exaggeration to say that the COVID-19 pandemic changed almost everything. At its outset, lots of people rushed to the shops to spend – on flour, on canned goods, and on toilet paper. The same thing happened in our IT departments. But instead of staples, organisations scrambled to invest in cloud to enable flexible ways of working from any remote location. 

As Michael Dell noted in an interview with CRN, “During the crisis organisations went the fast route with everything they were doing because they didn’t really have any other good options. When it came to working from home, it was like, ‘OK, take your PC, stick it under your arm and go to your house.’”

“As customers go back and look at that capability, they’re saying, ‘I understand certain workloads are going to be more efficient on-premise and some are more efficient in the public cloud. How do I optimise this? And how to I make all of these things work efficiently together?’ That’s where we’re seeing … the whole multi-cloud approach really resonate.”

He’s absolutely right. Almost 70% of businesses are already increasing cloud spending in the aftermath of COVID-19, and 84% of companies today use multiple clouds.

The evolution of the data centre

The changing nature of cloud investment has enormous impact on the role of the data centre.  

Consider that, originally, data centres were largely on-premise, brick and mortar locations, built to a very rigid specification. Racks and racks of servers were installed, each for its own workload. The process was hugely inefficient.  

As needs changed, so did our data centres. We embraced colocation to maximise the space available and boost performance, and we introduced new levels of complexity and cost. Finally, our data centre use matured. Virtualisation (and, ultimately, containerisation), platform- and software-as-a-service, and microservices offer flexible, efficient architecture.  

 As more computing moves to the edge and organisations continue to invest in hybrid multi-cloud strategies, the role of the data centre will continue to evolve to stay relevant. 

In fact, it will become adaptive. 

Creating an adaptive data centre strategy

As Gartner notes, “this is not about moving everything to the cloud or the edge, rather about changing the focus on how IT delivers value to the business.”

So, how can organisations move toward a more adaptive data centre strategy?

1. Outcome-first infrastructure, driven by apps 

The data centre will no longer be the sole hub for organisational data, rather part of a broader cloud ecosystem that will empower the business to be more agile and deliver solutions closer to the people who will use them. 

The idea is to be more adaptive, creating infrastructure that supports business outcomes - and the apps that support those outcomes. The focus therefore is to build strategies with a focus on the app portfolio rather than defining which apps are viable based on the company’s infrastructure. 

2. Integrating cloud, compute, and connectivity 

The key to an adaptive strategy is understanding that no part of your infrastructure acts in a silo. Your data centre has to interconnect across the public and private cloud with high-speed connectivity into both public and private assets. As Gartner notes, this approach brings “the enterprise and its applications to the network, as opposed to the outdated model of bringing the network to the enterprise. This creates a flexible infrastructure that allows placement of the right assets, at the right place, for the right reasons, in support of business outcomes.”

3. Pick the perfect partner with complementary capabilities 

It’s not enough to work with data centre or connectivity vendors based solely on technological or infrastructure – although that remains important. Beyond that, remember to explore your potential partners’ vision, expertise and experience, and their own partner ecosystem. Aligning on your values creates a long-term relationship based on business outcomes – rather than monthly transactions.

As we move to a hybrid, multi-cloud future, it will become increasingly essential for organisations not only to understand the value of their data centres, but to integrate them into their adaptive network infrastructures. Only then will they be able to realise the flexibility, performance, and efficiency benefits that are possible.