Revolutionizing the Traditional Data Center to Support Systems of Engagement

January 29, 2013

Revolutionizing the Traditional Data Center to Support Systems of Engagement

Many organizations are looking at cloud computing as an extension to their traditional data center.  The private cloud is often envisioned as a technique to provide a segregated set of services that can be used for such requirements as supporting peak loads, creating new applications, or more easily deploying services on demand.  But as with many technology trends, there are unintended and unexpected consequences in technology evolution.  Therefore, the pragmatic approach of isolating a segment of the data center as a pool of shared cloud resources will simply open the flood gates for dramatic change.  I predict that the data center as we have known it for the past 25 years or so will go away.

In Hurwitz & Associates’ book, Hybrid Cloud for Dummies (Wiley & Sons, 2012) we point out that the role of the data center will change in the coming decade.  A little history is instructive to understand the impact of these changes.  The data center was developed as a fit-for-purpose environment to manage and protect systems of record.  In the early days, the data center was optimized for these workloads.  Things changed in the 1980s as more systems with different workloads and different operating systems, different hardware, and networks.  The result of this change was that the traditional data center was no longer the optimized and tightly controlled environment that it had been.  With this diversity of platforms came complications.  The IT operations staff had trouble pleasing its constituents.  This resulted in a data center that was ineffective and inefficient in meeting the dynamic changes impacting business.

When is the Data Center like your car garage?

I like to use the analogy of the car garage. When a family moves into a new house, the garage is a great way to easily store two cars.  The garage is neat and clean and effective. But over time, the family’s possessions expand. Soon other items are stored in the garage — lawn mowers, rakes, boxes, bikes, old lamps, and the like. Now the garage is no longer fit for the purpose it was designed for. Most likely, it can no longer even fit a single car.  The traditional data center has this same chaotic evolution.

Placate the business with the private cloud. 

The result of the inefficiency of the traditional data center is increasingly putting pressure on the IT organization to find ways to be more efficient and effective in meeting the needs of the business.  In fact, I would posit that many IT organizations initially adopted Cloud services as a way to placate the business.  Ironically, this stop gap measure has had a major impact on the business and now companies are forcing IT to adopt cloud services — both private and public services.  Companies worried about security typically are insisting on a private cloud.  Ironically, these same companies have no problem using publicly facing Software as a Service offerings such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems such as and SugarCRM.  Other companies are comfortable with public facing cloud services such as  and Rackspace to help alleviate some of the pressure on elasticity, and price.

The new data center: protecting the Systems of Record

But until this point the role of the traditional data center has not changed very much.  Virtualization solutions have helped somewhat to make the data center more efficient but it has not changed the underlying problems of workload management.  But it is inevitable that the role of the data center will not remain static. Rather, the data center will go back to its original purpose: an optimized environment that is fit for the purpose of supporting line of business applications that require low latency, tight control and governance, and  high levels of security.  These systems include on premises ERP and CRM systems as well as traditional databases that store and manage customer information.  Therefore, there will be fewer hardware platforms, fewer operating systems, and fewer applications in this new generation of data centers.   In essence, the new data center will become the environment that manages and supports mission critical Systems of Record.

The cloud data center: promoting dynamic Systems of Engagement

Increasingly, the business requires systems that that can change and morph as business requirements change.  These are in essence Systems of Engagement.  If the data center becomes optimized for systems of record, the cloud environment will become focused on an increasingly important systems of engagement.  A second environment based on cloud computing will support dynamic and changing needs of the business – what we can think of as Systems of Engagement.  These systems will be cloud and mobile-based because they will need to support changing workloads, changing interactions between customers, suppliers, and partners.  These two environments will not exist in isolation from each other. In fact, redefined data center, with its highly structured Systems of Record, will have to be seamlessly integrated dynamic and cloud based Systems of Engagement. These Systems of Engagement will exist in a hybrid cloud environment and therefore will take advantage of both public and private cloud services.  These systems will be designed to be a focal point for Big Data analysis as well.

Back to the Future

In essence, we are going back to the future where systems are designed to meet the needs of the workloads they need to deliver to constituents.  This will not be an instantaneous transition. It will take a number of years to evolve.  No company will move to this new world that bifurcates Systems of Records from Systems of Engagement. The transition will be gradual and will be primarily driven by business process changes.  But I predict that companies that begin this transition now will be in a better position to compete in changing markets.


Judith Hurwitz , , , ,
About Judith Hurwitz

Judith Hurwitz is an author, speaker and business technology consultant with decades of experience.

One Comment
  1. […] analyst and author Judith Hurwitz points out that many of todays data centers are collections of platforms, operating systems, and […]

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