Data Centers optimize

The 21st century data center: Three game-changers

Scott Lowe names the three factors that he thinks will change the look of the 21st century data center.

As we approach the midpoint of the decade, a number of forces are coming together that have the potential to fundamentally reshape the data centers that have been carefully crafted over the previous decade. In this post, I will discuss three potentially contributing factors and how they could affect data center plans in the next few years.

Cloud

Perhaps the biggest potential game changer is the cloud. As cloud-based services continue their expansion, the march to the enterprise is inevitable. At first, companies will find themselves just testing the waters with a small workload... just to see how everything works. And then, as the cloud providers prove themselves capable of handling bigger workloads, and if the economics make sense, organizations will slowly move those tough-to-support workloads to the cloud, too.

If this pattern sounds familiar, you're not going crazy. It's pretty much the same way that virtualization revolutionized the data center in the previous decade. Organizations will ultimately begin to move to the cloud for the same reasons that they turned to virtualization. However, the cloud offers even more possibilities:

  • Pay for what you use. With virtualization, organizations were able to reduce their hardware costs by consolidating inefficient servers. But, even with virtualization, there is still "waste" in the environment in the form of overhead and unused capacity. With a move to the cloud, there exists the potential to simply pay as you go, which translates into paying for what you use and no more.
  • Capital vs. operating costs. Data center = big capex costs and cloud = operational costs.
  • On-demand capacity expansion. Data centers aren't always the most flexible objects in the world. With the right cloud provider, as your needs fluctuate, you can add and reduce capacity at will.
  • Less time on IT, more time on business. As you spend less time on data center needs, there is more time for business facing activities, at least in theory!

Over the next few years, I do expect to see many companies move at least some workloads to the cloud.

Converged infrastructure

As you probably know, the cloud is not for everyone. As such, the data center will continue to be integral for many companies. Further, even for those companies that do embrace the cloud, it's unlikely that they will move everything. Some items will remain local.

However, for many, there is a need to simplify the data center, especially when it comes to supporting certain new initiatives, such as VDI. Building data center environments is a lot of work and requires significant planning to ensure that there is capacity to meet ongoing needs and testing that needs to be done to make sure they everything works together.

Stop the madness! This is where the emerging hyperconverged market can be of great assistance. Currently, there are three major players in this space: Nutanix, Simplivity, and Pivot3. Each company takes a building block approach to data center architecture. Each block includes storage, compute, memory, and a hypervisor. As you begin to run out of resources in an existing block, you simply add another one.

As time goes on, these solutions are becoming even easier to manage. For example, with Nutanix, as you add new blocks, they are automatically detected and added to the resource pool without an administrator needing to go through a discovery process. You can't get much easier than that.

Further, these solutions are often specifically targeted to handle certain kinds of workloads, such as VDI. They generally include both hard disk-based storage as well as enough solid state storage to support things like boot storms and login storms and enough capacity to handle storing hundreds or thousands of desktops.

Obviously, these kinds of solutions aren't for everyone, but for IT shops that want to simplify the data center and redirect scarce resources at the business, they could be a perfect fit. I fully expect to see these kinds of solutions enjoy great success in the coming years.

For those that don't fit the hyperconverged space, there are always solutions such as Dell's vStart and EMC's Vblock that can meet data center integration needs. These solutions scale to meet the needs of even the largest of organizations and also simplify the data center by providing a one-stop shop for the entire environment while also providing a single phone number for support.

The economy

As times goes on, IT departments are continually being directed more toward the business and less toward the technology, hence the need and desire to turn to solutions like cloud and hyperconverged infrastructure. Even as the economy improves, I see IT as permanently changed and needing to continue efforts to refocus attention to bottom line driven solutions.

This will necessarily affect the data center in the years to come. CIOs will be forced to make different kinds of decisions than they may have in the past, including simplifying the data center and redistributing the workloads in new and different ways.

Summary

Obviously, there are other factors at play when it comes to the next decade data center, but I believe that the continuing rise of the cloud and converged/hyperconverged architecture coupled with ongoing economic needs will be significant drivers in the trends.

Extended coverage

See our Special Topic page, which includes best practices, features, and video on the 21st Century Data Center from ZDNet and TechRepublic:

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

2 comments
Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

Sorry, folks! Of course, Vblock is a VCE solution, not just EMC. Scott

ninkasi54
ninkasi54

The article is interesting, but I would like to comment on one statement made: On-demand capacity expansion. Data centers aren’t always the most flexible objects in the world. With the right cloud provider, as your needs fluctuate, you can add and reduce capacity at will. The cloud IS still a data center. The major differences are that the cloud will have to have capacity stockpiled to a degree in order to provide this fast response. And I've yet to see workable solutions to some of the complience issues many industries as a whole face. The issue of inflexibility at the corporate technology level is pandemic, and one of the major reasons that American companies can't advance on their own; they need the ingenuity and passion that the small startups have in order to even creep towards new technology.