Cloud

Gartner predicts the data center is toast: They might be right

Gartner's prediction on the data center's death may not be aggressive enough, as data gravity helps accelerate the process.

Technology—especially enterprise technology—doesn't move nearly as fast we sometimes think. "Cloud has won!" has been the headline for years now, yet the no. 2 cloud vendor (Microsoft) is still making bank selling its hybrid vision to companies that want cloud but don't quite know how to ditch their data centers.

Not to worry: We now have an official date to celebrate the death of the data center. According to Gartner analyst Dave Cappuccio, 80% of enterprises will have shut down their traditional data centers by 2025, compared to just 10% today. This would be easier to pooh-pooh but for the fact that it's Gartner making the claim, and analysts have tended to be lagging indicators of change, not forward indicators.

We've heard this before

Skepticism is warranted whenever any enterprise technology is predicted to die. Companies still use Cobol, for heaven's sake, and IBM still prints billions in mainframe revenue. Enterprises do embrace the new, but they rarely jettison the old. And, as open source entrepreneur Joseph Jacks told me, it takes more time than we initially imagine. In part, implies Real Kinetic managing partner Tyler Treat, this may have much to do with how functional the enterprises are: "I've seen some of those enterprises. That ain't happening anytime soon."

SEE: Special report: The cloud v. data center decision (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

And yet, the data gravity seems to be pushing enterprises toward this decision, and faster than expected.

"As interconnect services, cloud providers, the Internet of Things (IoT), edge services and SaaS offerings continue to proliferate, the rationale to stay in a traditional data center topology will have limited advantages," Cappuccio wrote in a blog post, in significant part because the data is born in the cloud. Pulling data out of the cloud (website, IoT, etc.) and pushing it on-premises for processing, then back to the cloud to take action, doesn't make sense.

As such, "The role of the traditional data center is being relegated to that of a legacy holding area, dedicated to very specific services than cannot be supported elsewhere, or supporting those systems that are most economically efficient on-premises," Cappuccio wrote. There's value in such a holding area, but it's not the value that gives an enterprise competitive advantage.

And yet...

Actually, figuring out how to deliver that advantage is part of the problem with a traditional data center. As Matt Wood, general manager of Deep Learning and AI at Amazon Web Services (AWS), once put it to me, as enterprises try to figure out complex things like machine learning, they need to remember that they're "going to fail a lot of the time, and so it's critical to lower the cost of experimentation." Explaining further, he said:

Those that go out and buy expensive infrastructure find that the problem scope and domain shift really quickly. By the time they get around to answering the original question, the business has moved on. You need an environment that is flexible and allows you to quickly respond to changing big data requirements. Your resource mix is continually evolving - if you buy infrastructure it's almost immediately irrelevant to your business because it's frozen in time. It's solving a problem you may not have or care about any more.

SEE: Cloud migration decision tool (Tech Pro Research)

These are compelling reasons to move to the cloud, but is Gartner right on the timing? That's an impossible question to answer except in hindsight, but it's somewhat telling that Gartner, not some cloud startup CEO, is the one making the claim. Gartner is a fantastic analyst firm, but over the years its projections on data science, open source, and more have tended to be reflective of what had already taken root in the enterprise, rather than what was coming. It's possible, given this, that the data center demise Gartner's projecting could actually happen faster than planned, not slower.

Regardless, there is still money for companies like Microsoft and Red Hat to make as they pitch companies that want to embrace the future of cloud but can't quite kick the data center habit. Data gravity will keep moving more of these workloads to public clouds. It's just a question of when.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/Vladimir_Timofeev

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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