The reports of on-prem’s death are greatly exaggerated

An abstract image of a cloud raining data.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

You quickly learn in the world of IT enablement that every organization is unique and that every technology strategy, while it might be built of common parts, ultimately becomes a bespoke affair in one way or another. That makes it surprising, then, that we can so often find ideas that seemingly everyone in the industry is aligned on.

In recent years, a big example of this has been the principle of a cloud-first (or even a cloud-only) approach. We’ve arrived at a point where professing anything other than a dedication to the cloud is liable to draw funny looks from your peers, and where CIOs are often hired with the express mission of facilitating a cloud migration. To be clear, that trend is not without reason. Elasticity of resources – and the flexibility of pay-as-you-go pricing that goes with it – can be a huge boon to many operational processes. Access to high-performance computing capabilities, alongside other areas of technology innovation, has been significantly democratized by cloud offerings. Inventive new ways of establishing and integrating vital business systems have emerged, and made a real difference to many.

However, it pays to apply a critical eye to promises made in the technology world, especially when vendors are as united in their message as they are when it comes to being pro-cloud adoption. While the benefits of cloud are well-founded and meaningful, cloud service deployments also neatly serve the interests of the software giants offering them: they can mean simplified customer support, more efficient development processes, and (vitally) the flexibility to recognize SaaS revenues in line with investors’ preferences.

Calvin Hsu

Vice President of Product Management at Citrix, a business unit of Cloud Software Group.

On-prem’s lively-as-ever relevance

The truth is that it takes nothing away from the merits of the cloud to recognize that it will be decades before on-premises computing fades entirely from business IT – if, indeed, that day ever comes. Again, every technology strategy must be uniquely suited to its unique circumstances, and there remain any number of factors which might tilt the wise money towards maintaining on-premises components in an organization's infrastructure. Security considerations, both in line with regulations and for the sake of protecting critical IP, may be better handled on-prem. Custom network access processes may be answering latency challenges in ways that only work on-prem. Data sovereignty and control over operations may be designed, understood, and assured in a more holistic way on-prem.

I could go on – but it suffices to say that, sure enough, the cloud-first ideals that modern IT teams and CIOs so often profess are not always backed up by their actual decision-making, where we know that many organizations remain committed to aspects of their on-prem capabilities, or are even pulling workloads back from the public cloud.

Let’s not forget, also, that many people were ready to write obituaries for the mainframe back in the 1990s, but, while the notion of ‘big iron’ carries an air of being old-fashioned, it’s still a vital cog in the machinery for many of the world’s largest public and private sector organizations.

Adjusting the future IT narrative

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the world of IT today does not exist in a transitional phase of work moving, ever more completely, into the cloud; this hybrid age is, in fact, here to stay, with innovative mixtures of public cloud, on-prem, co-location and country clouds offering better cost management, workload optimization, and IT flexibility than any one of those options could hope to. What is odd here is that vendors have not (with some exceptions) been faster to adapt their software, support, and licensing strategies to this fact.

The software superpowers of the world will, naturally, continue to pursue their best interests by drawing more customers into buying more of their ecosystem. That drive makes it all the more important for organizations to establish a ‘Switzerland’ in their infrastructure environment: a neutral, abstracted party that can take a dispassionate view of the many landing points a business’s data will arrive at in a hybrid world and maintain a capacity for control and flexibility. I mean ‘neutral’, here, in the way that a good sports referee is neutral – becoming effectively invisible while enabling processes to run in their best possible way.

Yes, it would be wildly premature to stage a funeral for on-premises computing, but that doesn’t mean that the ways that we use on-prem, build it into workflows, and manage it alongside cloud infrastructure need no adjustment or evolution. For organizations today, transitioning to the future means maximizing the value from both on-prem and cloud, and for pragmatic vendors that means levelling the playing field between the two so that they can meet customers where they are.

Don’t, in short, call for a priest – call for a referee.

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Calvin Hsu is Vice President of Product Management at Citrix, a business unit of Cloud Software Group.