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4 Rules for Architecting IT in the Distributed Cloud Era

Scott Sinclair

Scott Sinclair

Practice Director, Senior Analyst, ESG Global

Scott Sinclair is a Practice Director for ESG and leads ESG's Infrastructure, Cloud, and DevOps team. As part of this role, Scott advises IT technology leaders as well as emerging innovators on both product and go to market strategy, while driving new research studies into the state of IT infrastructure, operations, and application development across the distributed cloud ecosystem.

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Data no longer should be considered simply a business enabler. For most organizations, data is the business. According to recent ESG research, 59% of IT organizations say some portion of their revenue is derived from data-centric products and/or services, and an additional 22% expect to add new data-centric products and services in the next 24 months. 1 If your organization is not digital and doesn’t generate revenue from data, you are an outlier.

This tie between effective data use and business success has created new realities that should drive IT leaders to rethink how their organizations operate:

  • A ton of data is being created, stored, and used, and the rate of data creation is accelerating. An ESG study showed that expected average annual growth rates over the next three years are 35% on-premises and 39% in public clouds. 2 In both cases, the volume of data would double in two to three years.
  • The number of locations data is leveraged in is increasing, including data centers. Nearly nine in 10 organizations leverage multiple public cloud providers, with 65% leveraging at least three. Data center numbers are expected to increase as well. When IT decision makers were asked to project how many data centers they expect to manage in five years, the percentage managing six or more data increased from 40% to 63%.
  • Data and application movement is pervasive. Fifty percent of IT decision makers report their organizations move data between cloud providers either “all the time” or “regularly.” Silos are becoming a thing of the past. Everything is interconnected.

Multi-cloud, multi-data center environments are here to stay. ESG uses the term “distributed cloud” to describe these environments that go beyond traditional hybrid-cloud or multi-cloud solutions—spanning multiple data centers, public cloud providers, and edge locations. To succeed in the distributed cloud era, IT leaders need to rethink their strategies for architecting application environments, starting with a few simple rules.

Rule 1: Prioritize simplifying and optimizing movement of apps and data across the distributed cloud. Recent trends in cloud-native, containerized application development are accelerating workload portability. Stop managing clouds and data centers as distinct silos. According to ESG research, the most common challenges of managing multiple clouds were ensuring coordination across streams (44%), ensuring security across multi-cloud environments (36%), and time and effort associated with moving multiple apps/data across data centers and multiple clouds (32%). Expect applications and data to move often across data centers and clouds, and therefore invest in tech and tools to simplify and automate this process.

Rule 2: Invest in tools and solutions that will improve your understanding of your data. When apps and data traverse multiple locations, understanding the specific characteristics of your data and application environment becomes essential. Otherwise, how can you effectively secure your environment or optimize to control costs? Consider that other challenges of managing multiple clouds include ensuring necessary availability for workloads (cited by 32%); ensuring performance (21%); and managing differing governance, risk, and compliance profiles (27%). Given the pace at which businesses want to leverage data, IT typically doesn’t have the luxury to manually analyze what each application or data set requires. The need for this activity, however, does not evaporate. Invest in tools and partners that can provide insights into data and applications across any environment, on- or off-premises. (When data moves, switching tools creates unnecessary cost, complexity, and risk.)

Rule 3: Always be optimizing, especially in the cloud. As environments become more distributed, businesses have more options. Public clouds offer agility, but the cost of compute and storage depends greatly on the data, the app, and the provider. Costs can change over time. In the rush to give developers and line of business teams fast access to resources, the downside is often inefficient resource utilization. Thus, invest in tools and partners that can help you optimize your cloud infrastructure.

Rule 4: Invest in agility, especially on-premises. The data center is not going away. Avoid assuming the public cloud is for agile, cloud-native workloads, and data centers are for traditional workloads. When it comes to net-new application development, 36% of organizations expect to use microservices to design apps to be deployed in on-premises data centers, and 30% expect to deploy apps on-premises from public cloud infrastructure. Prioritize data center agility.

Data has changed business. As a result, businesses have changed how they create, leverage, and store data. It’s time to get away from siloed planning and start investing in tools and technologies that provide control, simplicity, and agility everywhere.

1Source: ESG Master Survey Results, 2021 Data Infrastructure Trends, September 2021.
2Source: ESG Distributed Cloud Series, Application Infrastructure Modernization Trends, November 2021. All research cited is from this report unless otherwise noted.

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