Public, private, virtual, hosted, hybrid: discussing the modern data centre with CIOs

What’s going to happen to the data centre as technology evolves? How should CIOs plan their journey to the next stage? What does it mean for end users? And how can Microsoft help? Microsoft’s Cliff Evans met with a dozen CIOs to find out.

CIOs have more choice than ever before about how and where they run applications and services. The traditional data centre is dissolving in a sea of ones and zeroes like a scene from The Matrix. Virtualisation is still a live project for many CIOs and the cloud beckons, whether public, private or hybrid.

I met up with a dozen big-company CIOs on 1st May for a wide-ranging discussion about what this means for them and their companies. I can’t tell you who was there or what they said on an individual basis but Chatham House rules do allow me to say that we had a very nice dinner at Grosvenor House Hotel while we talked and they let me summarise some of the themes, as I saw them.

Cloud OS delivers choice

Microsoft’s view is that we want to give companies a choice. Our Cloud OS vision is delivered through a combination of Windows Server, Windows Azure, System Center, SQL Server, and Visual Studio. It provides a modern platform for data centre transformation.

For example, with this platform, you can virtualise servers, networks and storage, all in a very cost effective way, moving services easily from private to public cloud hosting and move towards the vision of a fully scalable, elastic, service led data centre that spans on premise and off-premise resources.

Welcome to the real world

CIOs at the dinner welcomed this vision and recognised how it could help them. At the same time, they have to deal with real-world practicalities and concerns like security, availability and so on. If the CEO can’t access her email, it’s the CIO who gets the rap.

So, for example, we talked about availability and cloud applications like Office 365. Enterprises need very high levels of availability for some business critical systems and where this is the case switching from a SaaS application to a hosted service with stronger SLAs may deliver the benefits of cloud with added confidence (but at a higher price).

Similarly, CIOs are under pressure to support consumerisation and BYOD, such as employees’ smartphones, but they still need security and manageability to protect sensitive data. A discussion around Windows Phone pointed to some potential solutions that would reconcile the two pressures.

A balancing act

This is the kind of balancing act that CIOs have to make. Where companies have the right tools, they have more choices and can pick better solutions. Part of the value of these events for me is that they help me understand the constraints that CIOs face but I think part of the value for them is the way we can show them better tools and point to a brighter future with more possibilities and most importantly choice.