Data centers have received a steady stream of technological updates in recent years, leading to faster, cheaper, and more automated operations. I think of these changes like a ladder, from the conventional data center of five or ten years ago, up to cloud computing today.
From the bottom rung of the ladder up, there have been advantages for data centers taking each step:
- A consolidated data center uses storage area networks and basic hypervisors to cut the number of disk systems and physical servers needed to support applications. Simple consolidation yields large savings in capital expenses, speeds up provisioning of servers as virtual machines, and makes server disks easier to snapshot and recover if anything goes wrong.
- A virtual data center relies on advanced hypervisor features to make operations more flexible and dynamic. Hot migration of virtual machines eliminates most scheduled downtime, automates resource management, and enables self-service lab management and staging that accelerates application development and deployment. Most data centers today are or are becoming virtual data centers.
- A private cloud takes automation much further, providing complete self-service for application deployment and scaling. Cloud technology uses software to do many of the routine jobs of today’s system administrators, making IT far more agile in response to business needs. Clouds also offer fine-grained accounting of resource use, permitting precise chargeback of costs within the organization.
- A public cloud has all the facilities of the private cloud, plus the sharing of resources among many customers. This requires large pools of servers and storage, and provides each customer the experience of limitless scalability on-demand and without prior planning. Public clouds also charge for use in small increments, so that an organization can replace its fixed capital costs with smoothly varying operating costs. Without a public cloud, capital equipment costs are normally set to accommodate the maximum level of use, so public clouds are often much less expensive.
A company facing this technology ladder does not have to take each step; it can jump more than one step at a time. A conventional data center that starts making changes today is likely to jump straight to the virtual data center or beyond; a number of new companies have built their IT directly in the public cloud.
Many enterprise customers today are working in the virtual data center model. For them, the coming year will be about expanding and getting the maximum value out of their virtual data center. They will concentrate on simplifying their operations and increasing the level of automation. And they will have their eyes on cloud technology, wanting to ensure that they can take the next step when the time comes.
Cisco designs equipment to work at each step along the ladder. The network is a platform that should support each data center model with minimum disruption as enterprises change. In the coming year, you can expect to see new equipment that supports the flexibility, simplification, and automation demands of today’s virtual and cloud data centers.