Trading Data Centers For Clouds.

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your data here.

Your Data Here

I was having a conversation recently with one of our consultants, David Rocamora, as our team broke down the contents of a start-up’s data center, when I came to the realization that we may have built our last data center.

Now we don’t really build data centers, but we have racked a lot of servers, storage and network gear around the world in tier 1 data centers for our clients. With the change in the economy and the maturity of several cloud services, the data center that we know and love looks like it’s going the way of the wood pulp newspaper.

Certainly more data centers than ever are being built: Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon are soaking up gigawatts (petawatts?) of power like never before. But the days of dressing down in jeans and a sweatshirt and going out to New Jersey or Colorado to rack servers in an earsplitting, freezing cold warehouse of caged servers and blinking lights seems to be drawing to a close.

Some numbers to consider:

This ‘scaled down’ dot com we were consolidating, had spent about $500,000 on a few racks of some amazing equipment (Sun, Check Point, etc) only to find out 4 months later they didn’t need it. Pennies on the dollar. The contract for the floor space, power, and bandwidth goes on for another 8 months and I bet you could buy a modest BMW for what it’s costing them.

Now a similar sized start-up we just started working with on a really innovative interactive image platform, is using the Amazon cloud and RightScale and is spending about $50,000 a year on cloud services. No capital outlay.

Flexibility?

The cloud is infinitely more flexible, we can put servers in Europe in a matter of minutes, set up high availability zones in different regions around the country, and if they start to get swamped with business like we think they will, we’ll be able to turn up as many servers as they need in a few minutes time.

What if the dot com of 4 months ago took off? Order servers, spend capital. Put in a request for more bandwidth, more cage space. Days, maybe weeks go by. Then get out the jeans and sweatshirt and head over to the data center. Earplugs. Man, those servers are loud.

You get the picture. But this is happening so fast it’s amazing. Six months ago when the dot com was building its data center, the Amazon cloud was still in beta, with no SLA, and it wasn’t an option for a serious start up. Today, building a data center isn’t an option for a serious start-up.

Now we have availability zones, provisioning and monitoring tools, the ability to drop terabytes of data into the cloud — shipped through FedEx! But the real promise is the rich API and the spirit of community innovation. Companies like RightScale are finding a niche in the cloud, developing something really valuable, and then selling it as a simple service that makes our lives so much easier.

It’s exciting to see this happen so fast.  To avoid being crushed by this wave, as an IT team, you need to really stay on top of it. IT in our part of the ecosystem is becoming more the art of selecting, deploying, integrating, managing and supporting cloud based services, and much less the craft of building serious web infrastructure.

It’s a little sad for the hardware geek in all of us, saying goodbye to the roar of the servers, putting down the Velcro ties and picking up some slick provisioning and automation scripts. But I think we could get used to deploying 50 servers in a few keystrokes from a quiet, comfortable seat in the office.