Today, running your business on private servers is on the same level of odd behavior as carrying scuba tanks to provide a private air supply.

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell when a novelty becomes a trend or a trend becomes the new normal. This is not one of those times. The era of the on-premise server is clearly behind us, with the cusp of change literally on our calendars.

In just the past week, we’ve seen significant server-shedding events and announcements from GoogleBox and Amazon Web Services. Even Microsoft finally seems to get it: enabling people to work from anywhere is more important than keeping them leashed to a platform going nowhere.

This is no longer just a matter of doing things a little more cheaply, or a little less painfully, by doing them in the cloud. It’s bigger than that. Today, running your business on private servers is on the same level of odd behavior as carrying scuba tanks to provide a private air supply. Does it give you more control of exactly what you breathe? Certainly, but can you make a business case for all that excess weight? Going forward, the notion of owning your own server farm is looking equally eccentric.

Servers were a cost-effective stopgap during the period when processing power got cheaper, much more quickly than our planet-wide networks became pervasive and interoperable. The 1971 debut of Intel’s first microprocessor, the 4004, came three years before the word “internet” was introduced; the birth of the modern Internet’s TCP/IP protocol was still eleven years away, and that was seven cycles of Moore’s-Law processor improvement. Having your own room full of servers made sense, like having your own air dome on the surface of Mars: inside our little habitats, we could have pockets of breathable “air” of computation and connectivity, but outside it was still a near-vacuum.

As early settlers on Planet Computing, we all got pretty skilled at charging up our air tanks and patching our space suits for those dangerous walks across the landscape from one dome of air to the next. Remember your brief episodes of “going online” with your dial-up modem? Over time, though, we’ve made the atmosphere of connectitvity and shared processing power much more breathable. We’ve even leapfrogged ourselves: as one CEO recently asked his facility manager, “We spent how much to put state-of-the-art Wi-Fi in this building? And I get more bandwidth on my 4G LTE smartphone?”

Data server cloud 3


We’ve also changed, in a fundamental way, the kinds of workload that we perform. When business computing was automation of internal record management, data originated at a predictable pace; analysis was needed on a regular schedule. Owning a battery of servers that can handle today’s world of bursty, externally driven data would be like carrying tanks that are big enough to get you through a marathon run at a sprinter’s speed. Even if you can afford the cost, you rightly dread the unproductive burden.

So far, furthermore, we’ve only talked about gross computational capacity. We haven’t even begun to discuss the more complicated tasks that we want to be able to perform, like real-time collaboration. When you own your own servers, collaboration requires you to simulate the sharing that a cloud makes completely straightforward. If something happens on Department X servers in one building, and something related happens on Department Y servers elsewhere, it takes a ziggurat of middleware to make it look as if a shared process is taking place in a shared space. This is more expensive, more failure prone, and can’t possibly be more effective than the real thing: an actual, single, concurrently accessible work product on the shared foundation of a cloud service provider. That could be any of several reputable innovators, but almost certainly will not be someone who’d rather sell you software to run on your own machines.

Imagine a day when colonists on Planet Computing wake up to the news that the air is now dense enough to breathe. Would some people say, “I don’t know: I’m not sure I trust it”? Would some people strap on their air tanks, out of long-established habit, and say, “You go ahead and try breathing that stuff. I’m sticking with what I know”? Of course. Every new capability has its late adopters.

But will those resolute tank-breathers be late to work, tired by their load, and preoccupied with watching their air gauges while others are sprinting ahead? Absolutely–and that’s what we see today in business, education, government, health care and every other institution. Those who shed the dead weight first get more done, sooner and better and at less cost.

We live on a fully connected planet, surrounded by tasks that increasingly demand immediate scalable access to rich processing power–mediated by ubiquitous networks. No new company starts out with a budget line item of “buy servers”; even in the largest enterprises, few today would want to risk joining the hall of shame for managers who build over-budget and under-performing server farms, instead of marshalling modern cloud services to solve the problem.

RIP, the server. You were what we needed when there was no alternative. You’re now a relic of a time that’s almost unrecognizable today; you represent a cost that’s unaffordable, and unreasonable, for all future time to come.

Peter Coffee is VP for strategic research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the IT and business community to define the opportunity and clarify customers’ requirements on the company’s evolving Salesforce1 Platform.

Feature image from Thinkstock/wavebreakmedialtd. Cloud image from Thinkstock/buchachon.

  1. this article, just lol

    1. I don’t believe cloud is anything more than temporary hype due to customer ignorance of what it really is just like in the finance industry sold derivatives like candy because few really know that derivatives are just gambling or bets on the market or stocks or whatever else they decide to bet on. Its so funny and sad. Networked Servers with some nice parallel computing software are a cloud. Like the article said processing power was a factor. It will be again with exponential results. Companies like NVidea, Parallela and products like Arduino and such other startups will rock the industry to its knees again. A well trained cloud tech will make and weave hybrid clouds just like we have centralized or distributed servers today. It is mazing that calling networked servers “cloud” can sell so well. Maybe I should call ground beef Cloud cow and make a fortune selling cloud beef. A private server farm or group of servers in your office networked together is a CLOUD and it is REALLY PRIVATE! Its just going to take an event just like the early on line Prodigy days and when that happens the wake up call will ring and we go back to what is truly under our control. I do love all that equipment hitting craigslist LOL. Maybe I should shut up and take their stuff and then resell it to them later as the price of ignorance. LOLROFL.

      1. I await the first “hacker” attack on “cloud” servers. Isn’t that sort of the same principle as parking all your capital ships on “battleship row”?

        1. Thomas Knight Thursday, April 3, 2014

          Excellent analogy!

      2. Well put. I was saying the same sort of thing when clouds were first discussed. My question back then was, “how are clouds new?”. We have had this technology for years, but stick an ambiguous name on it and suddenly it’s something everyone must have :-).

      3. Food For Thought Monday, March 31, 2014

        Everything you’ve said is correct. The only problem is that you missed the point. Right now, people are afraid to dump their information into these global clouds, but that will change in time as you weight the cost/benefits of such services.

        The ability to reach customers/employees world wide without having to try is what is going to sell these services. The big difference between a private cloud and one hosted by Google/Amazon/Microsoft is the ability to pay for what you need when you need it and not have to sit on a bunch of extra infrastructure on the off chance you get slammed. These cloud services, unlike a private batch of servers, automatically resize within minutes without reconfiguration and just as important can automatically move from a damaged server to functioning one. The whole point is that these companies have literally millions of machines sitting around the world allowing you to have like local access by shipping and managing your data for you. Consistency, replication, dynamic utilization; getting a private cloud to do all that is going to be tough! Oh and since the infrastructure is shared, so are the maintenance costs across all users.

        Yes you don’t have 100% control over where you data is but that if you are willing to give up that control the benefits of what you gain might out weight the limitations. Throw so end to end encryption in there and even if some were to be able to snoop at your data, they’d then need to decrypt it. Even the could wouldn’t know what your data was.

        Yes clouds have been around forever, but they haven’t been available to the masses at these global scales.

        1. It almost feels like it’s impossible to make HA servers at the office and that technology is reserved for “Cloud” servers only.

        2. I cannot believe you don’t understand that home servers are just as flexible and especially cost affective since the other folks are dumping high class servers on craigslist like no tomorrow. I have a personal cloud, backed up as an 1028 encrypted file on a back up service and on my personal back up device. Its not that hard. Just like pcs some people are going to use a mouse like a foot pedal and the cd disk like a coffee holder at first but in time that will change. Everything I need and I mean everything is at home, It uses 100 watts when it is all idle and that will improve as hardware improves. I have even access to it anywhere I go and can automate anything I need. Someone is going to invent an all encompassing private Microsoft or public Ubuntu like software suite to do it all in one instead of three parts. When it happens you plug in a $100 extra parallela module and a few $100 hard drives and voila it will be like installing a stereo system and people will laugh at this marketing experiment. Your opinion comes from the not as teckie areana even though you are a tech market SME. BUT us Uber Geeks like last time made our own pcs from computer shopper. So us geeks will not buy the Packard Bell or Tandy clouds. So here is my reply summation reply and it is in jest, I mean no harm. Just poking fun. We build our personal “clouds” so, Hey hey You You get off of my cloud! Hey hey you you get off of my cloud! Darn I am giving away my age. LOL

        3. Yes agreed cost savings are wonderful especially when shared by the masses. I would not want to put my golden egg into a shared basket of strangers. Even a little collection of the wrong information is extremely costly..

    2. All wonderful stuff except if you live in AUSTRALIA where a 10MB link costs about 8 grand a month. I am still rolling out servers for this reason alone. When connectivity rises from the dark ages this article will make sense.

      1. Hear, hear! The view presented is narrow and thoughtless. The economics is really questionable outside of an economy where all you can eat internet connections are the norm.

        Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of instances where cloud is compelling despite Australia’s high cost of Internet connectivity. SaaS seems to be one of the most compelling. But there are a few services that are likely to become the behemoths of the cloud computing world (Salesforce, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Office365, etc.) and a frenzy of developers around and between them.

        I suspect that the current view of “agility and innovation” through cloud will turn to disillusionment at some stage when the complexity of changing a highly interconnected set of cloud services rears its head.

        There are also likely to be some companies get a rude shock when upgrade decisions move out of their hands, potentially breaking functionality within their interconnected cloud services.

        My favourite IT riddle has stood the test of time

        Q: Why could god build the world in seven days?

        A: No installed base!

      2. lostinAfrica Monday, March 31, 2014

        10 mb Line… cute.
        Try South Africa. Our fastest ADSL line is a “up to 10 Mb” and we would be lucky to even get a stable 1 MB and that’s download speed, lets not even think about the horror of uploading data.

        Cloud is pretty, but for those of us in the real world……

        1. “We live on a fully connected planet”?Unfortunately many areas of rural Britain still have very slow connectivity speeds. Until this is rectified it will probably be impossible to replace local servers.

  2. yea! Adverticles rock!

    1. I think the author just wants to make up new analogies. Some of the worst.. I’m embarrassed for him. The Cloud is also annoying. Ever try to tell The Cloud NOT to upload info?!? It does it anyway. And it makes it like WeAre the idiots hotwiring our little networks together because we have information that is not public. Maybe publicly held corporations can use the Cloud, but we have Trade Secrets and as someone above put..it’s not secure!

  3. Not yet, internet bandwidth is still a major bottleneck for many workloads. They said these very same things about mainframes 30 years ago. And for sensitive data that can’t be put in the cloud for security reasons local servers remain the only option. Maybe 50 years from now:)

    1. Bandwigth even in the Metroplex’s of the world still have pockets of DSL that is slow. And do Not forget the US Hippa Laws, Storing that data requires it to be on site secured.

  4. Air is free and owned by no one. The cloud is not. Were all air on Earth owned (and charged for) by a handful of private individuals, the desire to lug your own scuba tank around would be a far cry from irrational.

    Decentralisation – in the ability of anyone to set up their own server and not be further beholden to anyone – is what moved connected computing to develop faster and broader than, say, the old Bell monopoly.

    1. Robert Mollard Tuesday, April 1, 2014

      This is so true. If someone owned all the air and could, at any moment, turn it off, or have an unscheduled outage, or even a scheduled one that didn’t work out for my needs to breath.
      Air is a critical piece of infrastructure, you’d be crazy NOT to carry a private scuba tank.

  5. Ok so, are you suggesting that you’re shutting down your data centers and moving all of your workload to one of the major cloud providers? Or are you still buying servers?

    1. Haha, fantastic. The cloud is just servers, but generally at a much much higher rate if you need things running 24×7. Great if you just need to ramp up capacity for a bit. They’re also not 100% reliable (i.e http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/03/azure-leap-year-bug/)

      This cartoon perfectly describes cloud computing http://xkcd.com/908/

  6. Excuse me, but what else is the Cloud made of but servers!

    Sure, dedicated hosting may be declining some in favor of Cloud servers, but the title and much of the article is ridiculous.

    1. Well said.

  7. Matt Eastwood, IDC Saturday, March 29, 2014

    Last time I checked, “the cloud” was running on servers…and lots of them. Isn’t Avis and/or Zip Car vs. owning your own car a better analogy than air?

    1. Chris Burkard Monday, March 31, 2014

      Yes, although if given the choice the vast majority would rather drive their own vehicle than a rent-a-wreck.

  8. Peter Paraguay Saturday, March 29, 2014

    OK, so I have to assume the author is referring to HOSTING your own servers as opposed to using one of the commercial Cloud environments. What does he think those Cloud environments run on…air? Also, please show your work Mr. Coffee. Those Cloud environments aren’t free. How about providing a TCO comparison? You also don’t address security concerns for sensitive data. Please don’t come back with they are completely secure. Just as the NSA about topic. This is the kind of fluff they teach in the world of academia, aka, Fantasia. Sorry but this article cannot be taken seriously.

    1. The author is just peddling the sale of the day – sale being “cloud”. There’s nothing special about cloud and there’s zero benefits in having a cloud rather than your own infrastructure outside the narrow windows when one needs to scale up quickly.

      Running instances in any cloud provider ( regardless of which one is there ) is always more expensive than maintaining your own data center as soon as we talk about more than a half rack of equipment. Places like TelX would gladly sell you that for a very small amount of money. Major providers are just a cross connect away.

      Not to mention, cloud provides no transparency ( which of course could be a good thing if the CIO of the company likes to hide his or her incompetence by blaming vendors ).

  9. Yes, cause Cloud means that Servers don’t exist anymore :). The marketing spin just continues. Cloud has it’s applications and folks need to be smart about evaluating the pro’s and con’s. MS, Amazon, and others have their risks that On-Premise will always be superior on (for a price), but sometimes that price is worth it. Buyer beware.

  10. Rath. E. Weird Saturday, March 29, 2014

    This should be a conditional statement – provided you were thinking that computational workload isn’t limited to Excel. A lot of computations stemming say from deep sequencing does make sense to run in the cloud. But if you try doing the same for molecular dynamics simulations the cloud would age and bankrupt you. So servers – or clusters – are still alive and kicking, even if you don’t know about it.


Comments have been disabled for this post