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The data center of the future? It's the one CIOs don't operate

IT leaders need to make tough choices on where to focus their efforts. Running the data center of the future won't be on Niel Nickolaisen's agenda.

Technology is ubiquitous and it is constantly changing. Because of that, IT leaders must become really good at deciding which technology battles they dshould fight. For a while, the really interesting technology innovations came from the non-infrastructure side of life with things like advanced analytics, mobile apps, social, digital marketing, micro-services, data privacy, collaboration, and all manner of compelling things worth fighting for in the corporate corridors of power. In the past couple of years, really interesting innovations are happening in the world of infrastructure. These innovations include cloud orchestration tools, a wide array of cloud services, containerization, software-defined everything and hyper-converged infrastructure. I decided some time ago that if, from among all of these innovations, I have to decide which battles to fight, I am going to let someone else prosecute the infrastructure innovation battles. For me, the data center of the future is the data center that someone else innovates and operates.

Data center of the future is not my own

Some of my largest customers are asking me to provide them geographical segregation of their data. That means that I need to prevent some of their data from entering certain geographies. If I am operating my own data center, supporting geographical data segregation can be a nightmare. I would have to build out a data center in an acceptable geography, populate it with new hardware and route specific transactions to that data center. Even if I have virtualized my entire application stack, I would need to physically replicate my data center.

Conversely, if I use another's data center, I create a virtual instance of my application stack and move it to a data center in a geography that is acceptable to my customers. There is still work to do, but this is much simpler and cleaner than building it out myself. Every day this type of application movement becomes even easier as the cloud orchestration tools and technologies get better and better.

When I combine using someone else's data center with mine, using the new application container technologies, I end up with an extremely nimble, agile and responsive-to-change stack of services. And at the pace of technological change, I need all the nimbleness I can get.

Should I figure out hyper-converged infrastructure options or should I do business with a data center provider who is driving those innovations and making those decisions? Besides, what will make the biggest difference for my organization? Mastering the data center of the future or mastering advanced analytics, digital marketing, social and whatever other non-infrastructure technology advancements are coming my way? For me, I choose not to fight the data center battles.

How to choose the right provider

Of course, I have to be careful in selecting the provider who will deliver my data center of the future. I should only consider someone who is exploring and experimenting with the new and evolving infrastructure technologies. Someone with a track record of flawless delivery of data center services. Someone who, every day, achieves operational excellence and continuous improvement.

In managing all of the things on my technology plate, it makes sense to me to let someone else be the master of data center management and innovation.

About the author:
Niel Nickolaisen is CTO at O.C. Tanner Co., a Salt Lake City-based human resources consulting company that designs and implements employee recognition programs. A frequent writer and speaker on transforming IT and IT leadership, Niel holds an M.S. degree in engineering from MIT, as well as an MBA degree and a B.S. degree in physics from Utah State University. You can contact Niel at nnick@octanner.com.

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This was last published in May 2015

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