Edge computing was front and center when Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman took the stage at the company's Discover 2017 conference in Las Vegas Tuesday afternoon. She was there to talk about HPE's vision for the future, which is all about taking business to the edge of the internet. In her vision of a future dominated by mobile devices and the Internet of Things, traditional on-premises data centers are the drivers, with public cloud along for the ride in the back seat.
"Just to be clear," she said about ten minutes into her talk, "this new intelligent edge does not make your data center less important. It actually makes it more important than ever, because your companies aren't going to have only one edge, or a limited amount of edge devices -- you will have many. This is going to require an even greater amount of centralized computing to get the most out of your digital operations."
This wasn't surprising coming from a company that recently gave up its public cloud aspirations to jump on the hybrid cloud bandwagon. What was a little surprising was the hard sell. Whitman seemed to be there not so much as the company's CEO, but as a senior sales rep selling the notion that soon everything is going to be computerized, and that with HPE's help, companies can keep their data safe and secure in their own data centers while taking advantage of a new internet economy that will be centered on the network's outer perimeter.
"While we keep hearing the hype that everything is moving to the public cloud, it's just not happening," she said, pointing out that market researcher IDC has reported that 53 percent of enterprises have left or are considering leaving the public cloud to bring their workloads back to on-premises data centers. "Public cloud is absolutely the right choice for certain applications and certain use cases, and it's part of the right mix for hybrid IT.
"Simplicity, time to deploy, and cost is what made the public cloud so popular," she added. "But many customers have reached a point where they're now asking us to help them optimize in a hybrid environment. And once they get to a certain point with the public cloud, they essentially hit what we call 'the cloud cliff,' where either for reasons of control, security, performance or cost, the platform they went with is no longer the best option."
She cited two examples, Dropbox and Smartsheet, of companies that began with a public cloud-based infrastructure but eventually decided to migrate to a hybrid approach anchored by on-premises data centers. "Dropbox is now cash flow positive, a key objective in its maturation as a business, as well as positioned to accommodate a lot faster growth in the enterprise market."
There were several reason behind the decision by Smartsheet, a SaaS collabration platform, to switch from a public cloud-centered approach, starting with a need to gain more control over its infrastructure, Whitman said. In addition, the company was finding that as it grew, its cloud-based model had become expensive, a particular concern since the company uses a freemium model to attract paying subscribers.
Whitman pointed out that the move was daunting. "When the company considered moving to a hybrid IT model, it wrestled with another set of challenges. First, the shear complexity of the migration. Second, Smartsheet also needed to fund the transition without cannibalizing its investments in other areas. And finally, it needed to manage both operations, retiring the cloud environment and a new on-prem build, without adversely impacting its business."
The long and short of it was that with HPE doing most of the heavy lifting, the transition was evidently smooth and affordable.
The approach that Whitman is advocating is not new of course. The hybrid cloud approach of keeping most day-to-day operations running in traditional on-premises data centers and using the public cloud as an adjunct has long been recommended by other large solutions providers -- such as Red Hat, which pioneered the approach -- and decentralizing the network by moving to the edge with the use of microservices and the like is increasingly being embraced in the age of mobile devices and IoT.