Is a Data Center the Nemesis and Cloud Computing the Savior?

Why is it so hard to understand that cloud computing cannot exist without physical data centers somewhere? Maybe I am different, but I would feel more comfortable knowing my computing is being handled in a real building and by a set of IT gears run by ample power and cooling. If someone told me not to worry about the physical infrastructure but to believe that magical computing power is coming from somewhere else, I would not buy his service.

There seem to be two different kinds of people, cloud people and data center people. If you understand how cloud computing is implemented, some of the things happening in the market place puzzle you. I am not the only one who is confused by the messages in the market. Rich Miller wrote an interesting post.

Basically, the U.S. government is fed up with its expenditure on data centers and wants to outsource them to third parties:

The federal government spent $76 billion on IT last year, and about $20 billion of that was spent on data center infrastructure, (U.S. CIO Vivek) Kundra said. “A lot of these investments are duplicative,” said Kundra. “We’re building data centers the size of city blocks and spending hundreds of millions of dollars. … We cannot continue on this trajectory.” The solution: begin shifting government infrastructure to cloud computing services hosted in third-party data centers, rather than building more government facilities. Kundra notes that the General Services Administration has eight data centers, while Homeland Security has 23 (but not for long, as they’re consolidating to two large facilities).

His post includes a video announcement by the U.S. CIO. Miller mentions:

Here’s a video of Kundra’s announcement Tuesday at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. An interesting moment: check out the video that starts at the 19-minute mark, which underscores the “data centers are the enemy” theme. It’s almost like a bad political ad: when the data centers appear, the music turns ominous and the background grows dark … but when cloud computing is mentioned, the music turns happy and the landscape becomes green.

Miller’s Twitter message to introduce his blog says it all:

Fed Cloud Targets Evil Data Centers: Cloud=good, datacenters=bad! Hmmm … wonder where those clouds will live.

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Avoidable Mistakes that Compromise Cooling Performance
in Data Centers and Network Rooms

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I totally agree with Miller. Kundra is simply passing the problem (according to him) to others to worry about. I really want to find out how bad each cloud computing provider’s PUE is. If you cannot foresee demand, you need to overprovision buildings, power, cooling, hardware gears, software, and more. The total power consumption (and as the U.S. CIO, Kundra needs to be concerned about it) may not change by outsourcing your data centers to third parties.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

3 Responses to Is a Data Center the Nemesis and Cloud Computing the Savior?

  1. Hawk
    hawk September 23, 2009 at 11:44 am #

    After the last thirty years watching technology shift from centralized data centers, to distributed data clients, and back and forth, it strikes me to be more of a shift caused by new technologies, and the new services they bring, than any single focus on what is best for everyone. If the government cannot demonstrate leadership, how can we depend on the market to drive the decision towards a fundamental infrastructural path that will reduce carbon, and any other detriments, while allow for a secure, innovative playing field for industry?

  2. Seattle Engineer September 24, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    The US GOVERNMENT outsourcing to cloud nine? This must be a bad joke. That means our IRS, INS, Penatagon, Homeland Security, OMB, etc. data could be stored on 3rd party computers? Does that mean that a company in Iran or China could build a huge data center and store the data for a firm hired to do cloud nine computing for the US Government? Regardless of who holds the data … Iran or someone else, does anyone else see the security risk here or am I alone?

  3. Ajay Gupta October 3, 2009 at 7:23 pm #

    Cloud computing is certainly supported by physical, or real-world, data centers as this correctly states right at the beginning. And I’m sure everyone, including Vivek Kundra, understands this. Still, outsourcing from an internal data center to a third-party data center does have the potential to reduce costs, through:

    1. Scale – the third party should be able to use a single data center (or an number of networked data centers built to provide services as one data center or one cloud, if you like) to sell services to multiple clients. Savings by spreading the sunk costs associated with infrastructure across multiple clients, much like a volume discount.

    2. Efficiencies born from the incentive to profit – Government agencies are not businesses and may not operate as efficiently as one can imagine. When the government outsources, the hope & expectation is that the business hired to provide service will be more efficient and therefore lower the Government’s overall costs.

    The concern here is that maybe the government will not want the third party that handles IRS and GSA data to also handle data for Mom&Pop Retailer, or other ‘non-critical’ businesses. If that happens, we lower the cost savings due to scale to just the numbers the government can provide. Still a lot, but not as large as could otherwise be possible.

    On the issue of security. The potential for concern is real – China holding US data, just not a good idea. I’m not really so worried about it, because that can be avoided if addressed up front, such as by the following clauses to any outsourcing contract:

    A) All US Government data must reside in Data Centers physically located within the US (or maybe Canada for cooling purposes).

    B) All data centers & infrastructure serving US Government needs must operate an the security (e.g., encryption, access control, server configuration, etc.) level appropriate for the classification level of the specific data as established by the DHS and/or the Office of Cyber Security.

    NOTE: I hope reader’s caught the subtext here. First, the government has to classify all data (likely already done) and then the government has to attribute a level of security to each classification level (may be done), and that level of security has to be comprehensive to cover all bases, and finally, someone within the government has to take responsibility (ownership, accountability) of doing that work & auditing to ensure the vendor provides the security necessary.

    That, truly is harder to set up, than it is to execute. If we (the government) puts its mind to it, it can do that.

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