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- Jeff Byrne, Taneja Group
As recently as five years ago, a large majority of companies kept their most important information assets in the data center, where IT managers believed they could best manage, protect and control data and applications. That is changing, however, as the cloud continues to play an ever-more strategic role in IT investments. When it comes to the choice of where to park their data, companies are increasingly choosing the public cloud over on-premises storage.
One major reason for this shift is clear: Data follows apps, and apps are moving to the cloud. A growing number of organizations now see information storage on cloud services as their preferred platform for new app development, taking advantage of Agile development methodologies and rapidly maturing container and microservices technologies.
The gravitational pull of the cloud is strong for existing apps as well. A little more than four out of 10 IT respondents in a recent Taneja Group survey on public and hybrid cloud deployments said they already moved at least some apps to a software as a service (SaaS) deployment model, while over a third plan to lift and shift apps to run on public cloud infrastructure (see the "Plan for using public cloud infrastructure").
A second big reason for this shift to the cloud is the sheer amount of data created and housed in information storage on the cloud. As public cloud vendors launch new database, data warehousing and similar services, new data creation has started happening in a big way. Organizations also generate a large volume of unstructured content on websites, social media and similar online activity in the cloud. Think of how many people now store home videos, photos and music in the cloud compared to just a few years ago. Add to that the data streamed to, collected and analyzed in the cloud from IoT, mobile devices and other telemetry apps at the edge. That makes it easy to see how the critical mass of new data creation has shifted from on premises to the public cloud.
Let the use case be your guide
One way to determine where to park information is to base the choice of parking spot on how, where and when that information (apps and data) will most effectively be accessed and used. If a use case happens in information storage on the cloud, then your data will likely need to be based there as well. Let's consider a few common use cases finding growing adoption in the cloud:
Dev/test. From its earliest days, the public cloud provided a productive environment for the development of new cloud-native apps and the migration and testing of legacy workloads. Going forward, well over a third of organizations plan to develop and deploy new apps there.
Data analytics. The cloud is an ideal place to perform analytics of all kinds -- irrespective of data type, volume or toolset. It provides an agile and elastic repository for data to be processed, visualized and correlated. Data lakes, for example, are taking off in the cloud, as users recognize inherent advantages such as scalability, pay-as-you-go consumption and the broad availability of analytics services.
File sharing and collaboration. Information parked in the cloud is both highly accessible and easily shared. Unlike traditional on-premises approaches, users can choose from a wide variety of file hosting and sharing services in the cloud to meet the requirements of each specific project or use case. The options allow them to achieve the right balance of features vs. cost.
Compliance. The public cloud is becoming a versatile platform for complying with all manner of industry regulations and for satisfying data sovereignty rules. All major public cloud app providers must now comply with the European Union's GDPR, further enhancing data privacy and user control over how data is stored and consumed. Cloud providers have also popped up region by region and country by country to address data sovereignty concerns.
Data protection. Information storage on cloud services can be protected in many ways. These range from traditional snapshotting and replication between on premises and the cloud or between clouds to the use of traditional backup software. Many companies today also replicate key data from cloud to cloud to enable recovery from a major outage or other disruption.
Data archiving. With services such as Amazon Glacier and Azure Archive Storage, public clouds have become cost-effective repositories for archiving information. This archived data can be semi-active, near-line data that might need to be occasionally accessed or inactive or historical data that must be preserved for a certain time period. Information that begins its life as primary data will eventually pass through these various phases of the data lifecycle. And in an overwhelming majority of instances, the cloud is better equipped to address these phases. From initial creation of a piece of user or application data to ultimate archiving or deletion, the cloud offers the infrastructure, tools and services to support it, whether it is ready to be analyzed, processed, managed or stored.
Parking in cloud vs. on premises
Not convinced? Let's consider what you lose by keeping your information on premises. For one thing, you may lose the ability to take advantage of cloud-based innovations such as new analytics approaches or AI or machine learning toolsets introduced by cloud providers. Major providers have and continue to launch a steady stream of services and are attracting data of all types and in all stages of the lifecycle. For example, think of a machine learning application in the cloud that analyzes large volumes of incoming sensory or experiential data. The more data such an app touches, the greater its effectiveness. By having that data flow into and analyzed in the cloud, you can take direct advantage of the provider's machine learning app, which is only going to get smarter over time. If that data instead were to be transmitted to systems parked on premises, the gain in knowledge and value could be lost.
Second, by retaining information in the data center, you lose the scalability and agility advantages the cloud provides for various usage scenarios. For instance, data parked in information storage on the cloud platforms is generally more broadly accessible and simpler to share and repurpose, boosting its utility. SaaS-based apps are designed to enable collaboration across such data sets, further enhancing the value of the information.
When the cloud is a no-parking zone
Are there types of data, use cases, industries and so on where it doesn't make sense to park information in the cloud? The answer is yes, for a variety of reasons.
For example, an enterprise might choose to keep particularly sensitive business or technical data on premises for compliance or security purposes. Others have cost and lock-in concerns. In certain cases, the monthly cost of storing and processing large or rapidly growing data sets in the cloud can be high compared to on premises. This is partially because, in response to the cloud, on-premises vendors have started to offer steadily more cost-effective and easy-to-use storage, database and analytics products that can be more closely managed when running in the data center.
If you anticipate needing to eventually move large portions of your data out of the cloud -- either to another cloud or back on premises -- you can avoid large egress charges by parking that information in your data center instead of the cloud. Also, organizations in certain industries, such as healthcare and government, are restricted in the type or level of information they can host and run in the cloud.
In short, although the cloud is proving a good fit for a growing number of use cases, apps and data, some information is best still parked on premises.
Information can move freely and easily within a given cloud, and even pass through various stages of its lifecycle without being constrained to a single place. Data can also be filtered, analyzed, collated and transformed without oversight of a human attendant. Despite this dynamic milieu, rich metadata helps track and manage your information in all its derivative forms.
Moving to cloud-first
Companies adopting a cloud-first mentality will invest in the cloud for new apps and use cases whenever possible and thereby benefit from parking their information there.
But most businesses are still biased toward running a significant percentage of business apps -- including some of the most critical ones -- on premises. So how can you reap the benefits of making the cloud the focal point for where you access, process and manage your data without disrupting existing business processes and workloads?
You can start by making the cloud the parking place of choice for new workloads and data, particularly for apps born in the cloud. If you choose to migrate existing business apps from on premises to the cloud, the data should follow.
If your organization is like most, however, you may decide to maintain some business-critical apps on premises for now while starting to move secondary use cases such as data analytics or archiving to the cloud. In this case, your primary data for such apps will continue to live in the data center, but data might be copied and moved to the cloud. That lets you take advantage of in-cloud analytics or archive data there permanently as it becomes less active.
The cloud as an information parking lot
Companies used to worry about the risk and cost of deploying and running key information assets in the cloud. Now they can ill afford not to. Major public clouds have matured into enterprise-ready platforms, not just for development and testing of new apps, but also for deployment and support of existing workloads. Most major commercial apps are now available in the cloud in the form of IaaS or SaaS deployments. And as customers move apps to the cloud, their data will follow.
The cloud can already support almost any usage scenario, in many cases better than on premises. So as data is created and progresses through its lifecycle, it should increasingly live in information storage on the cloud, close to the apps it supports.
So where should your information reside, in the data center or in the cloud? Although for most enterprises the answer clearly remains "It depends," we think you'll find the cloud to be the best parking spot for most of your company's information going forward.