How the Cloud Sparked a Second Renaissance for IT

Senior enterprise technology Analyst Steve McDowell discusses the evolution of the modern IT as it faces a software-defined future.

By Brian Carlson

By Brian Carlson December 06 2019

With the advent of the software-defined world, a cloud-based IT infrastructure is not only more scalable than traditional on-premises solutions, it’s quicker to deploy. Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provides businesses the flexibility needed to tailor the customer experience across multiple channels.

According to Steve McDowell, Senior Analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy, we are in the middle of a second IT Renaissance, where advances in cloud, AI technology, and storage hardware have given organizations the flexibility and speed to scale any and every customer demand.

“We're reinventing how we do IT right now for the first time in two generations,” said McDowell, who has focused his career on the enablement of new storage and systems technologies for the enterprise market.

“Since we migrated from the mini-computer world of the late eighties to what we have now, we're going through that again with cloud, containers, hardware, AI technology and new storage. It's a tremendously exciting time.”

According to McDowell, IT leaders should be asking themselves where the IT organization will be in a few years and what infrastructure is needed to get them there. As IT infrastructure becomes more of a hybrid mix of on and off premises hardware, McDowell said software is playing a bigger role.

“Where do I want my IT organization to be in 2025 and what are the steps to get there? What kind of infrastructure do I need to put in place? That infrastructure is increasingly software-focused,” McDowell said.

In the old pre-cloud IT world, just setting up an IT operation and supporting new business opportunities was a huge commitment and investment. Companies needed to buy servers and install on-premises software with all the related licensing fees and support costs. But with the availability of cloud infrastructure services, a start-up can mitigate risk, decrease initial investment and save office space, McDowell said.

“Twenty years ago, doing a startup in the technology business required a huge capital investment for servers,” he said. “You needed software to put on there, with the license fees. Cloud has taken all of the risk away, because now you can buy what you need.”

IaaS Provides Scale and Flexibility

Moving infrastructure to the cloud is not just about cost savings, but accessing a new level of flexibility and scale. With IaaS, the ability to deliver on customer-centric business strategies becomes a reality since now there’s a flexible enough platform to scale up and down where and when needed.

“What the software defined world has done is enable companies to start and scale very quickly,” McDowell said. “It allows you to deploy new services rapidly and enables businesses to leverage that technology to provide more tailored and customized services for customers.”

With companies like Facebook now delivering content and experiences to billions of users in real-time, the need to scale up and down when needed is not just a nice-to-have for global businesses — it’s imperative for successful daily operations.

“If I'm Facebook and I have three billion users over a three year period, I’m asking questions like how do I scale that and make it work? What's an infrastructure that I can deploy that's going to scale with my organization?” he asked.

The promise of software-defined flexibility and scale is something all IT departments want right now, whether they are using it in a dedicated cloud environment or a multi-cloud environment. While this may be the end goal for many departments, McDowell said it may not be prime time yet for a complete infrastructure migration to the cloud.

“IT wants that software-defined flexibility,” he said. “They don't want to spend money on the IT infrastructure, but the workloads and tools aren't quite there yet.”

Managing Workloads in a Multi-Cloud World

Planning for not just what type of cloud set up is needed today, but for the near and mid-term future, is of critical importance, according to McDowell. While some want to go full IaaS and ditch on-premises completely, it’s not realistic at this point, nor is it highly recommended. McDowell sees hybrid solutions as the way to evolve once business needs, budget and functionality requirements are all accommodated in a complete vision.

“The reality of enterprise IT now is that it's a multi-cloud world,” he said. “Workloads can live anywhere and often do, and they ping pong back and forth. It's all about hybrid cloud, whether its public cloud or on-premises and bridging the two,” said McDowell. 

Having to deal with business, tech and requirement realties by compromising on a multi-cloud environment is not the only challenge IT departments face when moving their infrastructure into the cloud. How workloads will be managed is something to seriously think about too, said McDowell.

[Read related story: Rethinking Workloads for the Cloud Era]

“Everybody talks about workloads and means different things,” he said. “When I think about a workload, there's the compute processing piece, there's the storage piece, and there's the networking piece and delivering the right quality of service to my customer who's often the business owner. IEnterprises must balance those three things,” McDowell said.

When managing workloads, being able to balance support of three primary components is what any infrastructure needs to accommodate, according to McDowell.

“When I think about workloads, it's about how I manage those three components, networking, storage and compute holistically.”

While the cloud has given organizations the ability to get their infrastructure up quicker and for less capital investment, its tools and workloads still need maturation, according to McDowell. He said it’s best to set up a hybrid or multi-cloud solution to achieve some of the benefits while forecasting and future-proofing any plans for a full IaaS solution. 

Brian Carlson is a contributing writer. He is Founder of RoC Consulting and was Editor-in-Chief of CIO.com and EE Times. Follow him on Twitter @bcarlsonDM

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