Data Centers ‘Open’ to Innovation

Terry Flanagan

In the mission-critical area of technology, companies first need to have the right people, processes, and systems in place.

After that, the most important consideration can be simply stated: keep your options open.

All of the big technology providers offer a public cloud service, with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure leading the league tables currently. However there are many other public cloud providers as well as open systems that enterprises can utilize.

Johan Christenson, City Network Hosting

“The only thing we know in this agile and fast-paced world is that we do not know what will come around the corner,” said Johan Christenson, CEO of City Network Hosting, a European provider of global open IT infrastructure services. “The key word quickly becomes flexibility, and making sure your enterprise can adapt to new ways of working and accelerate innovation.”

Indeed, technology evolves fast, and the tech landscape is littered with products that were once cutting-edge, ranging from floppy disks to DVDs to dial-up modems to dot-matrix printers. If anything, the rate of advance has accelerated in the age of cloud computing and apps, as evidenced by Amazon Web Services growing annual revenue from zero to $17 billion in 11 years and WhatsApp being acquired for $19 billion just five years after launch.

“IT transformation is a challenge for all,” said Bill Fenick, Vice President Enterprise at Interxion, a provider of co-location and data-center services. “Alongside the drive for operational advantages, IT leaders need to keep track of the constantly changing landscape of solutions and applications. To win and lead in this environment you need an agile approach to both the technology and its application.”

Supply Diversity

Keeping options open has a specific relevance to data centers, which financial, media, retail, telecom, and other companies leverage to operate their IT infrastructures. In an open data center populated by multiple communities of interests such as internet exchanges, cloud platforms, connectivity providers, and enterprises, there is an opportunity to gain mutual benefit — and retain flexibility — that a closed architecture does not offer.

Bill Fenick, Interxion

“Keeping pace with the user-experience expectations of customers and stakeholders will mean maintaining a diversity of supply in connectivity,” Fenick said. “Internet exchanges are neutral and open. Enterprises are increasingly looking to have direct relationships with these exchanges to improve application performance and security, and arbitrage other services.”

Another viable option of an open-architecture data center is open-source software, which provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. “The intrinsic innovation that open source delivers today is well-known and documented,” Christenson said. “However it is the innovation that we build on top of those open layers that changes companies’ futures. Open source and open systems deliver the flexibility required to fully be able to adapt to what lies ahead.”

OpenStack, the open-source platform that some say is the future of cloud computing, was deployed by 23% of organizations as of last year, up from 15% in 2016, according to a global survey of IT leaders commissioned by SUSE, a German open-source software company. Another 59% of companies surveyed were either testing OpenStack or planning to do so.

Key advantages of OpenStack were cited as flexibility (61%), lower costs (52%), agility (47%), adaptability/integration (46%), freedom of choice (44%), and avoiding vendor lock-in (34%). On the downside, 82% of survey respondents said implementing OpenStack is difficult.

“Businesses are looking for long-term flexibility…Ensuring they have the ‘right cloud’ for each of their workloads,” the SUSE report stated. “OpenStack is evolving from a position of promise and potential to delivering real value on many levels once deployed and supporting more robust DevOps initiatives.”

OpenStack is “the predominant and de facto global standard for an open cloud operating system,” according to Christenson.

“Open allows for collaboration between public and private cloud, creating needed flexibility,” Christenson said. “It allows for the selection of several vendors working well together, not only positioning for your business at the right price. Open vs. closed should be a simple choice for any enterprise today, as open enables the solution of tomorrow and accelerates innovation.”

A closed system, where one entity provides all services, “at first appears to be the fastest way to innovation, but the long-term view is different,” Christenson continued. “What is the cost for an enterprise that is locked in but needs to make changes? What is the cost if innovation starts to falter?”

Better Performance

The Open Compute Project aims to make hardware more efficient, flexible, and scalable. According to the industry group’s website, its global technology members “work together to break open the black box of proprietary IT infrastructure to achieve greater choice, customization and cost savings.”

Bill Carter, OCP’s chief technology officer, noted there might be dozens of “ingredients” in the software stack of a data center.

Bill Carter, Open Compute Project

“If there is an open community, I have birds of a feather working on those ingredients and optimizing those ingredients,” said Carter, who was a senior data center architect in the cloud products group at Intel before joining OCP in 2016. “Rather than having one company that has to maintain and make changes and improve upon that entire stack, I have lots of different companies focusing their expertise on those ingredients. I get to pick and choose those ingredients, and by customizing I can create better performance.”

Ultimately there will be a plethora of cloud platforms and systems to facilitate enterprise infrastructure, be it in public, private or hybrid cloud; the important aspect will be which infrastructures allow for continuous innovation, rapid deployment, and embrace from customers and stakeholders. The systems which allow for this will be the winners.

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