Going cloud – addressing the data centre dilemma

Many organisations are acknowledging the benefits of migrating to the cloud and are seeing their competitors either considering this option or having already made the move

April 15, 2013

By Roelof Louw, Cloud Expert at T-Systems in South Africa

Many organisations are acknowledging the benefits of migrating to the cloud and are seeing their competitors either considering this option or having already made the move. For small medium enterprises (SMEs), the decision is easy as the path to migrate is less onerous and considerably less complex. However, larger organisations have additional considerations to factor in such as compliance issues, which require information to be stored within the country, and security concerns.

Further adding to the conundrum is the question of whether to outsource data centre facilities to a hosted provider, attempt to leverage the investment of an existing data centre, or invest in building a new, purpose-built data centre for cloud solutions. Addressing this data centre dilemma requires careful consideration of legalities, organisational requirements, and existing infrastructure, so that the most appropriate and cost-effective option can be selected for cloud solutions going forward.

In South Africa, the uptake of cloud solutions is generally slower than seen in America and Europe. However, following global trends, SMEs have been quicker to adopt cloud solutions, as a result of the fact that they are geared towards faster adoption and are subject to fewer restrictions from auditory and compliance bodies. Within larger corporates, they not only have security and compliance barriers to contend with but the data centre is also a significant consideration. Corporates need to make the decision on utilising existing data centre infrastructure or taking the hosted route, and this decision can impact the adoption of cloud services.

Many large organisations have already invested heavily into data centre infrastructure. However, when it comes to leveraging existing infrastructure for the purposes of cloud solutions, there are several challenges. This legacy investment and infrastructure was designed and built for a computing environment that is very different from the one necessary to support the cloud.

Data centre environments for the cloud often require very dense storage arrays, which existing centres may not have, and which also require more advanced cooling and heat dissipation as a result of increased density. Added to this is a growing awareness of the need for improved energy efficiency, both to meet global environmentally friendly requirements and to counter ever-increasing energy bills. Utilising an existing data centre for cloud purposes may require extensive and costly renovations and upgrades, so the benefit of leveraging this investment can be somewhat diluted by the need to cater to a high-density cloud environment. One option for organisations in this instance is to sell their data centre to a service provider, who can then upgrade it as necessary and offer hosted services out of the centre, improving cost-effectiveness of services.

Another option for organisations is to build their own, purpose-designed cloud-ready data centre. Although this may be a costly exercise, there are some applications where this expense is warranted, and the data centre will be able to leverage economies of scale to justify costs. For example, large multinational banking organisations with branches and offices all over the country are legally required to maintain their own data, and also have the scale to justify this cost. Building their own cloud data centre in this case is the optimal route to meet compliance, security and data centre needs.

However, for many businesses, building a cloud-ready data centre is not an expense that can be justified. As a result, moving to a hosted service provider data centre model is becoming a predominant trend in the market. Moving into service-based data centre solutions enables organisations to leverage the best-of-breed infrastructure and high-density arrays necessary for cloud solutions, without the capital expenditure of building their own data centre. Services are paid for on a monthly basis following a per-usage model, further improving cost efficiency. Technology is guaranteed to be kept up-to-date, and service levels are agreed and guaranteed up front. Data centre space is also highly flexible and scalable in the hosted environment, so organisations can scale their space up or down as required without the need to install additional infrastructure.

Service provider data centres also incorporate the latest in green, energy efficient technology, meeting sustainability and corporate responsibility objectives. From a legislation and compliance perspective, the service provider is also required to be certified and meet these criteria, so organisations can ensure that their data centre meets these needs too by using a hosted service. Hosted data centre providers offer this service as a core competency, which is often not the case for many corporates, thus leveraging a service provider’s environment can help to ensure better service levels and infrastructure to allow cloud services to run smoothly and effectively.

With cloud computing, the data centre is a critical component, and organisations need to select the optimal data centre solution to meet their needs. The business case for maintaining the data centre in-house needs to be carefully examined, and the cost of upgrading existing infrastructure weighed against the benefits. For many organisations, maintaining their own data centre for their cloud environment is simply not a cost effective exercise, or one in which they are skilled. For this reason, many corporates are turning to hosted or outsourced data centre solutions to support their cloud objectives.