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Future of the cloud is hybrid

Mix and match data centres

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Cloud Unless hosting is your business, it is unlikely that the premises your organisation occupies was chosen with its use as a data centre in mind. Far more likely, space was carved out of the premises, bringing issues of power, cooling and square footage to the forefront when adding new equipment.

For small to medium enterprises (SME), the chance of moving buildings to address these issues is statistically slim. Full-blown hosted cloud services lack the warm fuzzies of having your own data on hand, and raw co-location can get quite expensive.

For some services, the fully hosted option will always have its place. The accounting database, and industry-specific and mission-critical applications are another matter entirely.

What is needed are technologies that allow businesses to keep their data in hand but make the heavy lifting, and associated power, cooling and space issues, someone else's problem.

This hybrid approach, not the oft-touted vision of fully hosted cloud services, is the future of IT.

Layer cake

The hardware layer required for private clouds has been commoditised. From SME offerings to data centre-in-a-can, enterprise virtualisation now comes shrink-wrapped with a remote monitoring service thrown in.

Data centre design – including power and cooling – has been offered as a shrink-wrapped service for ages. So long as Intel continues obeying Moore's Law, the hardware side of the equation will offer no surprises.

The real tricks are in the software. Hypervisors are becoming more than a dumb layer between the metal and the bits. They are the service management layer.

Eight years ago, live migration of a workload between two physical servers without interruption was the bleeding edge. Just as this neat trick became old hat, the latest hype – private/hosted migration – will also one day pass pass into the realm of tickbox features.

Juggling act

Environmental awareness is the missing piece of the puzzle. The ability to fling workloads to and fro amounts to nothing if you those workloads don't move when they need to.

Network-enabled sensors exist; software just needs to make better use of them. When the uninterruptible power supply serving a host reports a battery problem, a humidity issue or a thermal excursion, workloads should automatically be moved to other systems.

Workloads could be programmed to be moved into the hosted cloud if they pass a given activity threshold and push up the data centre's temperature too high, or even if the local spot price of electricity rises above the cost of hosting.

These technologies exist and some are production-ready

A fully environmentally aware hybrid cloud is not pre-canned reality just yet. To truly realise this vision with today’s technology requires a lot of scripting and a great deal of diverse experience. These technologies do exist, and most are even production-ready.

This is the next generation of back-end IT, the inevitable evolution of what is already in scattered use today. Software and services able to recover gracefully from failures, or even to offload compute-intensive tasks to a remote instance while keeping the data local.

Over the rainbow

To see this over the horizon is important, as the flexibility of these technologies offers a competitive advantage.

More than simply driving down the costs associated with data centre expansion, true hybrid cloud systems will enable applications to be launched first in the cloud and then migrated internally when the server refresh gives you more local processing power to work with.

That these technologies are still a few years from mainstream should not be taken as incitement to apathy. It will take time to prepare. Workloads that haven't been virtualised need to be, legacy applications need to either be updated or jettisoned.

Yesterday’s private cloud technologies helped to make the operating system less of a barrier to servicer delivery. Today’s public cloud offerings enable systems administrators at companies of all sizes to work around the data centre’s hardware limitations.

Tomorrow's hybrid offerings will change how we think about data centres altogether. Will you be ready? ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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