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4 ways data center operations must adapt to the cloud era

The role of the traditional data center has changed dramatically as enterprises adopt cloud services, but IT operations professionals can evolve to remain relevant.

Is the data center dead? It's a question that has crossed the minds of many infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals as the cloud shift continues to proliferate.

Gartner predicts that by 2025, 85% of infrastructure strategies will integrate on-premises, colocation, cloud and edge delivery options, compared with 20% in 2020. While the traditional data center may not be dead just yet, it's certainly morphing. Its role will soon be relegated to that of a legacy holding area, dedicated to very specific services that cannot be supported elsewhere or supporting those systems that are most economically efficient on premises.

Maintaining and updating traditional data centers is no longer the primary role of IT. Rather, IT's primary function is now enabling the business to be more agile, enter new markets more quickly, deliver services closer to the customer and position specific workloads based on business, regulatory and geopolitical impacts. This is causing IT leaders to rethink infrastructure strategies, which have a direct impact on enterprise data centers.

As businesses shift to a , I&O leaders must evolve for this new era. Here are four ways they can do so.

Choose data center versus cloud workloads

As organizations are making decisions about shifting to the cloud, the primary concern of I&O leaders should not be whether to adopt cloud or not. Instead, I&O must focus on determining which workloads make the most sense to migrate to the cloud and which will have the most benefit to the business. Determining the right workload to migrate, at the right time, for the right reasons, to the right provider, will be the key to success over time.

When rationalizing workload placement, apply specific business rules that focus on areas such as compliance, data protection, , latency, resiliency, reputation, service continuity, location, availability and performance. These rules become the baseline for developing an overall infrastructure upgrade strategy that is designed to optimize business impacts.

Replace older workloads with an as-a-service offering only where appropriate. The trend of migrating back-office workloads toward SaaS adoption continues, but it's critical to assess migration risks in order to achieve maximum benefit. Picking the wrong provider or moving the wrong workload can increase operating costs and risks, rather than decrease them. I&O leaders must work closely with business units to determine where as-a-service is warranted and where it isn't.

Select the right service provider partners

The new digital ecosystem is developing in conjunction with key service providers. When selecting a service provider partner, begin by agreeing on the business-related benefits that can be attained for each application workload and its associated data. These benefits can include reduced latency, improved customer experience, stronger service continuity and compliance with data residency requirements, among others.

Consider not only the IT infrastructure offerings, but also ask how a partner can provide enhanced services when needed. Pick partners based on their vision, capabilities and their own partner ecosystem. Ask how they are preparing for the future of digital infrastructures and how that development will enable you as a customer to service your business more effectively.

Invest in hybrid IT tools

As enterprises move toward hybrid digital infrastructures, one of the key pain points will be operational processes and tools. In highly distributed environments where a workload could be anywhere, I&O remains responsible for both the assets and the end-user experience. I&O will, therefore, need tools to actively monitor and manage any asset or process, anywhere, at any time.

Invest in technologies that provide the proactive and business-relevant insights needed to discover and manage a hybrid IT model. This includes products that provide an advanced analytical foundation, such as , as well as relevant monitoring technologies. Such tools are critical to enabling IT operations teams to manage a continuously growing and diverse set of technologies, including wireless networking, cloud and software-centric networking and IoT in the data center.

Focus on critical skills versus critical roles

I&O leaders are faced with a seemingly impossible challenge: to develop their data center team's skills in a way that delivers against business demands while navigating a new and unfamiliar level of infrastructure complexity. They cannot afford to lose staff, yet they have restrictions on adding new headcount when they feel like 10 times as many resources are needed, especially those with institutional knowledge.

To manage this challenge, prioritize and develop staff versatility. Distributed digital infrastructures require two new critical skills -- business knowledge and provider knowledge -- and must also be underpinned by the ability to build rapport. When developing individuals and teams, prioritize collaborative skills and lateral thinking. Also, enhance your team's business analysis functions to facilitate working more closely with other lines of business.

The most effective IT professionals are always looking for new things to learn. Enabling and even incentivizing learning is a critical success factor in the move toward fully digital infrastructures. When employees realize that their value is not only how much they know in a discipline, but how much they understand the linkages between disciplines and the impact on the business, IT as a whole will become a much stronger organization and more able to adapt to these changing environments.

With these actions, I&O professionals can prepare themselves and their teams to evolve for the future of distributed digital infrastructure. As the data center morphs and digital infrastructure prevails, it will be critical for the I&O function to continue its evolution to account for this new reality.

About the author

is a distinguished research vice president at Gartner and chief of research for the Gartner infrastructure teams, responsible for research in enterprise data center strategies and trends. David and other Gartner analysts will provide analysis on cloud strategies and infrastructure and operations trends at the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies Conference taking place virtually December 7-10 in the and .

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