Cloud Isn't Finished Disrupting the Data Center

Lori MacVittie Miniature
Lori MacVittie
Published December 17, 2018

Cloud was the first wave of digital transformation.

Oh, we didn't call it that. Because we didn't know what we were starting. But it was, and it hasn't quite finished disrupting the data center. 

Cloud as Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is often grouped into two camps. The first focuses on the notion of 'going paperless'. This concept is directly speaking to the desire to digitally improve productivity through the use of technology. Mobile apps. Automation and orchestration of IT. The adoption of cloud to reduce friction.

The second focuses on gadgets and devices. IoT - both consumer and industrial - are the target of this kind of digital transformation. With IoT the focus is on the gathering data that can be used to optimize business and operational decisions.

At the heart of both definitions of digital transformation is the notion of convenience and ease of interaction. That’s the dirty little secret of digital transformation. It's not changing what we do, just how we do it.

Consider this plea for assistance in my neighborhood posted on NextDoor after a particularly heavy snow in April of 2018. 

Now, none of this - looking for help plowing out after a storm or trying to find out whether we'll see municipal services on schedule - is new. We've always done this. But in the past, we'd do it by calling on the phone or going door to door. Today, we use technology, instead, to interact and interface with everyone from our neighbors to our local governments to mundane services like recycling and garbage pickup.

That's what cloud has done. It was the first wave of digital transformation because it dramatically altered the way in which we interact with the network and application infrastructure. We no longer logged into a CLI, we operated via an API. We moved the burden of operation up the stack along with the methods by which we interacted with the technology.

Cloud did that, and it's had a resounding impact on every other technology since then.

Cloud showed us a better way to onboard and provision and then operate network and application infrastructure. And that better way has been slowly but surely pushing its way into the data centers of organizations across the globe. The digital transformation that began with cloud is now seeping into on-premises systems with a speed that's almost surprising.

This digital transformation of IT can be directly traced back to cloud computing and its deceptively disruptive impact on our attitudes toward how we interact with technology. Once we experienced cloud and discovered that we could interact easier at higher order layers of the technology stack, we were hooked. And so were developers and operators who struggled through the early days of cloud to emerge with very strong opinions about how the data center should look in the future.

So why does this matter? So what if cloud was the first wave of digital transformation?

Because the second wave of transformation is ready to wash over the industry any day now.


Cloud's Second Wind

You see, one of the other things that cloud transformed was not just how we interact with infrastructure, but how we consume it. I'm not talking about business models and licensing and subscriptions. Yada, yada, whatever. I'm more interested in how cloud began what microservices and containers are accelerating today - the breakup of the network.

In the cloud, you don't so much architect an application and its infrastructure today as you do assemble it. You're building a stack, not a solution, and you're doing it from application services with very narrow foci. Like you would assemble an app from microservices or, more likely, miniservices.

Instead of defining a data path with cables, you're chaining configurations of the application services you need to scale and secure your app workload (whether microservice, miniservice, or monolith). You're chaining configurations of individual application services. Because that's how cloud providers differentiate today - through value-added individual application services.

The impact of this will resound through the market sooner rather than later. The changes wrought by cloud's digital transformation are ongoing, and this second wave, if you will, can be seen headed for the shores of data centers everywhere. You see it along with the adoption of containers, and their heavily micro-serviced stacks in which solutions aren't architected, they're assembled. Assembled from a cornucopia of application services that span every possible layer of the stack.

The first wave was how we interact with infrastructure. The second will be how we assemble that infrastructure.

Batten down the hatches, because cloud isn't done disrupting the data center.