A guide: How the rise of SaaS and cloud influences the modern data centre

Cloud delivery of enterprise applications is rapidly transforming the software industry, IT organisations, and the modern data centre. The as-a-service model for delivering advanced software functionality has moved into mainstream acceptance. IDC projects the cloud software market to grow to $151.6 billion by 2020 with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.6% – far exceeding the growth of traditional software.

Enterprise IT organisations are embracing cloud software for good reason. SaaS versions of enterprise applications introduce new innovations faster than traditional software. Faster public networks, pervasive mobile devices, and modern development paradigms enable excellent user experience. Powerful cloud-based data centres serve up sophisticated real-time analytics functionality to users accessing applications from a variety of devices.  And probably most significantly, the adoption of SaaS frees up IT resources and simplifies enterprise data centres. 

The adoption of SaaS and cloud based software is a cross industry phenomenon. Health tech, fintech, retail tech offerings are emerging alongside enterprise applications-as-a-service (e.g. ERP, CRM, HR, accounting).  SaaS versions of enterprise applications to smaller businesses that never had the option to host complicated applications on premises.  Looking ahead, the rise of IoT enabled businesses – including smart industry, connected health, and smart city oriented companies – will also be delivered through as-a-service offerings.   These applications all share common infrastructure requirements.  This growing demand is giving rise to a new generation of data centre technologies that address the needs of as-a-service businesses.  

Infrastructure needs for ‘as-a-service’ businesses

Modern SaaS and cloud-based software place new demands on data centre infrastructure.  Some demands are simple evolutions of the requirements for traditional enterprise application infrastructure. Other are unique to the as-a-Service model where a single application instance is supporting many different organizations.

Modern SaaS businesses compete on user experience and functionality. Database platforms, server, and storage infrastructure must deliver the performance needed to deliver a positive user experience.   Many modern applications incorporate sophisticated real-time analytics functionality.  For instance, eCommerce sites may want to make real-time recommendations as part of a personalised shopping experience.  Real-time analytics put complicated workload requirements on underlying infrastructure and require unique approaches to maintaining consistently high performance. 

Part of staying competitive on user experience and functionality is the ability to constantly introduce new versions of a software offering.  One of the benefits of cloud software is the ability to roll out new software versions to all users extremely efficiently.  Modern software development organisations have embraced this concept with Agile development methodologies and by incorporating DevOps thinking into their organisations.  As new functionality is rolled out continually, the underlying data centre infrastructure must be as agile as the application. Rigid management paradigms and complexity have no place in the modern data centre.

Probably the most significant requirement for as-a-service infrastructure is the need for scalability. Modern SaaS business models are based on the principle of scale.  Scalable infrastructure strategies are critical as underlying business growth drives growth in users, in devices, in transactions, and in raw data.   Infrastructure solutions that cost-effectively deliver performance, simplicity, and reliability for a single enterprise often do not support the scalability needs of SaaS and cloud software.

Transformative technologies for the ‘as-a-service’ world

Service virtualization transformed the economics of data centre management, paving the way for the as-a-service world.   Beyond that, several infrastructure technologies are continuing to transform the modern data centre.

Solid state storage: Enterprise storage platforms built for solid state disk technologies are rapidly taking share from traditional hard-drive based arrays.   All-flash arrays that leverage the latest solid-state technologies and incorporate efficient data reduction technologies enable a step-change in performance with costs competitive with traditional storage.

Software defined data centres: Across the data centre stack (including servers, networking, and storage), software defined principles enable a new class of highly flexible, highly cost-efficient infrastructures solutions.  Custom hardware based solutions are unable to innovate at the rate of software-defined solutions that can ride the commodity hardware curves. 

Convergence: High speed data centre networking technologies including NVMeF will transform the notion of shared storage infrastructure. By connecting server resources to shared storage with this extremely low latency interconnect, data centres will achieve a new level of performance and flexibility.

New database paradigms:   As the server and storage layers of the data centre transform, database and application development principles will shift to gain full advantage.  Traditional RDBMS technologies will be augmented or supplanted with alternative database technologies like NoSQL/NewSQL to more efficiently deliver advanced functionality like real-time analytics. 

‘As-a-service’ data centre winners and losers

The rapid growth of SaaS and cloud software is not reducing the market for data centre technologies, it is driving a massive shift in who is buying these solutions and what their buying criteria are.  Data centre technologies that have been successful on premises, will not necessarily have the same success in the as-a-service world.  Legacy solutions saddled with rigid hardware based architectures are unlikely to keep pace with more agile, software based solutions.   Technologies with proprietary interfaces will lose to those that offer developers access through open standards.  Complex technologies requiring specialist support resources will give way to simpler solutions that can be managed by generalists.  

The as-a-service data centre will be architected for scale, for simplicity, and for the applications that will drive the future of digital business and digital lifestyle.