Overview

The three eras of application infrastructure are:

  • Datacenters
  • Hosted data
  • The cloud

While they're all different, each technology is built on what came before it, and the lines separating the eras can be quite blurry. In fact, many companies still use hybrid models, where cloud hosting is better for some applications and hosted storage for others. To illustrate the evolution of application infrastructure, we'll take you back through time, starting with the cloud.

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Working In the Cloud

The cloud has become ubiquitous over the past decade, so much so that the word has entered the public lexicon. Most people are familiar with the cloud, even if they don't understand how it works. Rather than access data stored on a local device, you use the Internet. Thanks to broadband and 4G, which will soon be replaced by 5G, you can quickly download even larger files. While some people only use the cloud for storing family photos or music, the applications are nearly endless.

The cloud is based on previous virtualization technology. Your data isn't saved to a single server. Instead, virtual servers share the load and are more flexible. The cloud also offers redundancy that increases reliability. If one physical system goes down, they don't all go down. Another perk of the cloud is that resources are doled out on an as-needed basis rather than dedicating resources to any single use or client. Companies can more easily scale up when their needs grow.

It's not just data that's stored on the cloud, either. Much software is now based in the cloud and can be accessed via browse or app, leading to a change in software deployment. You might not have to download any software or worry about compatibility at all. Working from the cloud is often more convenient for users. You can now work from anywhere and anytime, part of the reason the mobile workforce has grown over the years—and exponentially during the COVID-19 crisis. However, companies must now pay for software or platforms as a service to retain access to those apps. The cloud's growth mirrors the growth of data, and many people are concerned with its security, which is out of a company's hands if they pay for cloud services.

Hosted Storage Bridges the Gap

In many ways, the move to the cloud is a significant expansion to hosted storage. In this model, data is accessed over the Internet. However, it is stored on specific servers that were operated by hosts. It's easy to see how hosted storage bridges the gap between cloud and local storage, just like virtual servers served as a go-between from physical service to containers. It's similar to cloud hosting because

  • A third party sets up and maintains the resources
  • Security is out of the client's hands.

However, like datacenters, hosted storage isn't perfect.

  • Access may be interrupted by physical hardware limitations.
  • Hosted storage isn't always scalable.

Hosted storage caused the rise of mega datacenters owned by third parties. These datacenters were more massive than ever and presented new challenges regarding power consumption and heat production. In the meantime, many companies still employed local storage while adopting hosting storage, especially those that lacked reliable, high-speed Internet connections.

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Evolution of application infrastructure

Datacenters Keep Data Close At Hand

Datacenters that were attached to their facilities were once the only mode of data storage, and they came at a high cost. Datacenters need:

  • Space
  • Physical hardware
  • IT teams to set up and monitor it all

Internet and power usage could significantly increase those costs. Firms that have moved to hosted storage or the cloud often do so because of the cost-savings offered by outsourcing and downsizing. Despite these savings, cloud expenditure rose above those of datacenters in 2019, perhaps because of the monumental amounts of data we now store.

One criticism of datacenters is their lack of flexibility. When a company wants to expand a data center, it must add physical hardware, which can be both timely and costly. A lack of resources—whether it be storage capacity, memory, or processing power—can stall operations, which is why a business must always think about its future needs before reaching them when using physical hardware on-site. Furthermore, users must also remain connected on-site or have an Internet connection to the company network to access data.

Datacenter security is usually handled in-house. This tradeoff might be well worth it for a company that can pay for local IT and would rather rely on its own security than third-party vendors that offer software and data store via the cloud. But not every business wants to retain IT professionals or keep up with security.

While datacenters might seem like a cumbersome relic of the past, they're still used today. Flexera recently released a report that found 87% of organizations employ a hybrid strategy for storing data and tools such as hybrid Iron.io for data processing. Perhaps more impressively, 58% of organizations polled by the Uptime Institute reported that most of their work remained housed in corporate datacenters. The cloud may be the best solution for the other 42% of work, and it has often superseded the more limited remote data hosting, but application infrastructure has yet to evolve past datacenters.

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