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Carnivorous Clouds

I am fascinated by draconian predictions. You know, the ones that assert, “this sounds the death knell for that”. I think it’s the level of certainty that never ceases to amaze me. It’s almost like they know they’re going to be wrong but the shear audacity of the prognostication is just too overwhelming to suppress. And most of the time there really is no penalty for being wrong—except for those guys a few years back who castrated themselves in preparation for hitching a ride on the Hale-Bopp comet for a one-way trip to nirvana. Ouch. I bring this whole matter up in response to an article that I recently read where the author expounded on his unwavering belief that mega-clouds are coming for your data center. Let’s, as they say, discuss.

In digging deeper into the article, the author’s premise is that the cost efficiencies brought about through the scale of the cloud-centric data centers of the Amazon’s, Google’s and Microsoft’s of the world are unobtainable by the average enterprise so they’ll just give up on data centers altogether. Apparently, he hasn’t been looking at the lease up rates of data center space across the country. The more the cloud grows, the more data center space is required to house the servers and storage that supports them.

Sometimes big predictions overlook the little things that become big things, and can’t foresee others, and I think this is the case with this vision of a dystopia where existing data center providers are devoured by the insatiable appetites of the same behemoths that sell us books, word processing software and identify the location of the nearest Italian restaurant. For example, I don’t believe that our budding Nostradamus also factored human nature into his equation. By this I mean, the basic human desire to avoid being fired when someone hacks in to gain access to the corporate family jewels. A recent study of CIO’s stated that the single largest factor that inhibited their rush to public cloud adoption was security. Ironically, big cloud providers level of sophistication on security looms large over most enterprise approaches, but wives’ tales and superstitions still rule most roosts.  Obviously there are plenty of applications that organizations are more than willing to entrust to vastness of the cloud as evidenced by the growth of said data center predators, but those that the company holds dear will continue to reside inside corporate data centers for the foreseeable future.

I think the requirements for both the IoT and content rich applications (like those blasted cat videos your kid loves) will also serve as speed bumps on the road to an impending cloud oligarchy. The real time processing demands of these applications is increasingly making latency a key consideration for the discerning CIO and, quite often, even the cloud isn’t that ubiquitous. Case in point being Google’s recent decision to turn multiple caching sites into “mini” data centers. We now refer to these as edge facilities and many businesses will want to put theirs where they determine they are needed. At the end of the day, a shared cloud environment gets beat by an internal environ in terms of cost and performance.  For a lot of applications, that matters.  Even if your business is providing coupons (see Groupon’s move from AWS).  Now, by no means am I self-serving enough to see that a lot of infrastructure can move to the cloud.  It can and will.  But I do believe that Jevon’s paradox, as it relates to application and storage growth, will keep data centers off of life support for the foreseeable future.  And if the paradox won’t, you get bet your bottom dollar that regulations will.

Making apocalyptic predictions is always a risky business but on the continuum of “mildly outrageous” to “get a net, this guy is nuts” the idea of worldwide cloud domination is definitely on the left most end of the scale, but that doesn’t make it any less flawed. The notion of carnivorous clouds is certainly an attention getter, but I think the evidence points to a future of peaceful data center/cloud coexistence rather than one controlled by a mega-cloud cartel.