Thinking About Cloud vs On-Prem vs Colocation Has Gotten Smarter

Companies aren’t rushing to move all workloads to the cloud, but they aren’t sticking to old on-prem models either, survey shows.

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

May 10, 2021

3 Min Read
Fiber optic cables in a data center

If just a few years ago it seemed that the writing was on the wall – that most workloads running in enterprise data centers would eventually be running in football field-sized cloud data centers, it no longer seems that way.

It’s still true that the hyperscalers are picking up more and more enterprise business. It’s also still true that few companies whose core business isn’t running data centers want to run data centers. But for numerous reasons, including but not limited to the high cost of cloud services, compliance requirements, and performance needs, many aren’t ready to hand the entirety of their technical infrastructure operations over to AWS or Azure.

Those three things being true, what are enterprise IT organizations doing about the infrastructure for applications they support? Based on a new industry survey by AFCOM, the overall trend is toward a mix of cloud and colocation services. As far as on-premises data centers go, most enterprises appear to be all set for the foreseeable future. Eighty percent said they’re not building any new data centers today, 72 percent said they won’t be building any within the next 12 months, and 62 percent said they don’t expect to need any new data centers within the next three years. (DCK and AFCOM are part of the same Informa Enterprise IT family of media, events, and research brands.)

Moving Workloads Out of the Cloud

AFCOM surveyed close to 200 data center and IT leaders, more than half of them from companies with 1,000 or more employees. The top represented industries included healthcare and pharma, education, IT services, finance, and construction and engineering.

For the second year in a row, the survey asked whether companies were “repatriating” workloads they had moved to the cloud. Last year, more than 70 percent of respondents said they had moved some workloads from the cloud back to on-prem or colocation data centers. Close to 60 percent said they had done so this time around.

This isn’t a sign that the cloud services market is shrinking. The AFCOM report explains this as a sign of greater cloud and data center market maturity, a sign of more sophisticated thinking about various digital-infrastructure options. Companies are increasingly using cloud services for workloads that benefit uniquely from running on cloud platforms, while opting to run bulk dedicated resources on premises or in colocation, which often costs less than renting them from cloud providers.

Getting More Mileage Out of Existing Data Centers

While on-prem data center footprint isn’t growing, there’s a focus on getting more out of organizations’ existing computing facilities. That conclusion is based on two findings from the survey: widespread adoption of DCIM software and rising rack densities.

The average data center rack density among respondents to AFCOM’s 2018 survey was 5kW. The average density this year is 7kW per rack. While this is slightly lower than last year’s average, more than 60 percent of respondents to this year’s survey said their rack density increased over the last three years.

Close to 70 percent of respondents said they were currently using DCIM (data center infrastructure management) solutions for security purposes, 65 percent for environmental management, and about 60 percent for facility, power, asset tracking, and cable management. Integration of DCIM software with newer technologies such as intelligent systems and AR/VR is also on the rise.

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