In Data Centers, As in Life, Change is Good

You've heard all the logical arguments for moving your data center to the cloud. You know that’s the way the world is going. But in your gut, something still feels wrong.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. It’s only natural that you and many other C-level technology managers would feel that way after spending decades plowing hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of dollars into that air conditioned, raised floor, ultra-secure fortress that you’ve told your CEO you just can’t live without.

“As I move from managing the data center myself to having my data housed in somebody else’s data center, now I have to start worrying about security,” said Offermann.

Five or 10 years ago, the enterprise data center typically required millions to build and manage, with the expectation it would remain in service for 15 or 20 years. Today, comparable functionality is availability at a fraction of the price with a shelf-life of 18 months to three years. That makes it better suited to meet demands for agility in a fast-changing competitive market.

So why the anxiety? Scott Offermann, the Director of Critical Operations for Cushman & Wakefield, understands. In an interview, he told us that the typical CTO is probably thinking “I lose control. I can’t touch my server. I can’t go look at the air conditioner and make sure it’s working. I can’t walk into the data center and hear it hum. It’s away from me. That’s where the anxiety comes from.”

There’s a certain amount of irony to all this. Many CTOs choose their careers precisely because technology represents a future that is efficient and improves the way we work and live. Yet, after investing years of intellectual and financial capital into their data centers, they’re hesitant to move into that future with new technologies.

“In the computer world, we’re surrounded by people who don’t like a lot of change,” said Offermann. “They like process. They like procedures. They like to understand the road map. And now we’re going into an area where there is no road map for them. It’s something they haven’t experienced before.”

The Final Frontier                                                                                                        

It’s almost as if the cloud were outer space. While many techies may also be Trekies, many aren’t quite ready to explore strange new worlds with their enterprises, to boldly go where no CTO has gone before. It’s leaving a world you know for a world you don’t. That may be exciting to some, but it’s understandably scary for many others – and for good reason.

“As I move from managing the data center myself to having my data housed in somebody else’s data center, now I have to start worrying about security,” said Offermann.

“You start worrying about resiliency. You start worrying about how it will affect your business if this third-party data center is impacted,” he said. “And it’s not only worrying about how it will affect my business and whether I can sell the product or not, but what is the public opinion of my company going to be?”

The classic example came just before 5 pm EST on Christmas Eve 2012 when Netflix crashed just as millions of viewers were sitting down with their families to stream some classic holiday movies. The problem was in Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancing Service, but Netflix was the one that came off like the Grinch to its customers. “We’re sorry,” they told viewers.

Breaking Through

Gabe Cole, founder of the RTE Group, which provides strategic consulting for data center planning, acknowledges there’s a lot of anxiety that lives around skill sets, security and other factors related to the transformation process. RTE’s own transition to the cloud wasn’t “without challenges,” he said, but now he’s “constantly amazed” by the result.

“We would definitely like to think that we are the example,” he said. “Virtually all of our systems are cloud-based. We worked very hard to get them to function together, and to assure ourselves that we’ve got adequate security and back-ups with capacity to grow.”

Now that his journey is complete, Cole is glad RTE made the trip.

“We do so much more now and things are so much easier when we make changes and when we add things,” he said. “It’s not a long adoption process anymore.

“If we want to add this functionality or we want to create an app to do that, we go off and do it. Then it’s up and operating, many times in just hours or a couple of days,” he said. “Five years ago, it would have been months.”

Industry Pioneers

Of course, it’s understandable that IT companies may be ahead of other sectors in the transformation to cloud-based data centers, but other large sectors aren’t far behind, including healthcare where better handling of data saves money and lives at the same time.

“Hospitals are not well known for owning and managing data centers or huge IT storage centers,” Cole said. “So like it or not, your information’s out there on the cloud somewhere.”

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What about real estate? Many firms use third-party services to help track listings, contracts and other data. Offermann said Software as a Service is playing a big role right now in supporting his industry.

“Real estate is absolutely moving more and more into the cloud, for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “Part of it is we're becoming more of a global world. So having a server located in one little place in one little office, the connectivity starts becoming very, very difficult for the amount of traffic coming through”


Gabe Cole
RTE Group

Read Biography

Scott Offermann
Director of Critical Operations
Cushman & Wakefield

Read Biography

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