Will cloud drive traditional data centres to extinction?

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07th December 2015

A new Cisco study shows that cloud traffic is growing faster than overall data centre traffic. But will the cloud drive traditional data centres to extinction?

Global cloud traffic is growing fast faster, in fact, than data centre traffic as a whole, according to a new study from Cisco.

The networking firm's fifth annual Global Cloud Index, published on October 28th, claims that cloud traffic defined as data sent to and from "scalable, virtualised cloud data centres" will quadruple between 2014 and 2019 from 2.1 to 8.6 zettabytes. A zettabyte, for reference, is equivalent to a billion terabytes or a trillion gigabytes. In a previous study, Cisco estimated that only 1.3 zettabytes were transmitted over the internet in the three decades between 1984 and 2013.

This growth will significantly outpace overall data centre traffic, according to the index, which will reach 10.4 zettabytes by 2019 just three times its level today (3.4 zettabytes).

Based on these figures, it's not unreasonable to assume that cloud solutions will eventually eclipse traditional, non-virtualised data centres in terms of the amount of traffic they carry. It's a view to which some of Cisco's observations lend support: "Several factors are driving cloud traffic’s accelerating growth and the transition to cloud services," the report states. "The growth of machine to machine connections also has the potential to drive more cloud traffic in the future."

But will the cloud actually drive traditional data centres to extinction?

In reality, the answer is probably no not for a long time yet, anyway. Nonvirtualised infrastructure, whether it's hosted onpremise or in a colo facility, won't be going anywhere fast. Here's why:


Legacy systems may be better off where they are

There are countless reasons that moving legacy systems to the cloud isn't always a great idea. They may rely on very specific hardware and software combinations, for example. Until these systems reach end-of-life and renewal is absolutely necessary, it's often best and most cost-effective to keep them exactly where they are.


A cloud solution may not deliver high enough performance for some apps

Virtualisation means making a sacrifice in terms of performance, and this can make it unsuitable for resource-intensive apps involving a lot of graphics or a high rate of transactions.


A cloud solution may not support specialist hardware

Similarly, systems that require specialist hardware and even if that's something as basic as an USB dongle are
unlikely to be very well supported in the cloud, making them a good candidate to keep in nonvirtualised infrastructure.


Nonvirtualised servers may already be at full capacity

The idea of virtualisation is to make your resources go further running servers at 80 per cent capacity instead of 20 per cent, for example. If they're already stretched thin, there's not much point in adding a hypervisor to the equation.


Your software licences may restrict your ability to virtualise

Finally, many software licences are very restrictive when it comes to the use of virtual machines. In 2013, a survey from International Data Corporation and Flexera Software revealed how one company saved $4 million (£2.6 million) in hardware through virtualisation, but later incurred a $52 million fine over a software licensing issue. In cases like this, it's not really an option to virtualise until your vendors allow it.

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