The 10 Biggest Data Center Stories Of 2011

Data Centers Getting More Efficient, But Suppliers Still Sorting It All Out

Investments in the data center, both for physical and cloud infrastructures, continued to rise in 2011 as customers looked for ways to increase the efficiency of their IT operations.

That investment came in the form of more efficient IT equipment that can help cut power and cooling costs while making data centers ready for increased migration of IT operations to cloud computing. However, that investment also caused shifts in the way IT vendors jostle for mind share as customers looked at their strategic options. Those options included the choices of which suppliers best suit their IT needs, and whether they even need to purchase new equipment going forward. Clouds, cloudbursts, consolidation and containers all contributed to changes in the way customers and suppliers approached the data center in 2011.

The following are 10 reasons why the channel remains focused on the data center.

10. Business Is Booming In Data Centers

The rise of cloud computing and the need for more IT efficiency have finally overcome the sluggish economy to put data center hardware investment back on the growth track.

Gartner in October said it expects 2011 spending on data center hardware, which includes servers, storage, and enterprise data center networking equipment, to reach $98.9 billion, up 12.7 percent from similar spending in 2010. That amount finally exceeds the prior spending record reached in 2008, Gartner said.

Gartner cited three primary drivers for the increased spending, including increased use of virtualization which helps companies cut back on local system spending, increased efficiencies in terms of higher density system deployment, and new investments in consolidating third-party data centers.

9. Data Center Business Gets "Cloudier"

The adoption of cloud computing was a pervasive part of every facet of the development of the data center industry in 2011.

The market for cloud infrastructure equipment, including networking, compute and storage platforms for the cloud, is expected to hit $33 billion this year due to IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS adoption, according to analyst firm Synergy Research Group.

This indicates a major shift in data center spending as customers move part or all of their IT production away from dedicated equipment to shared infrastructures, either on their own premises or into third-party data centers.

8. Data Center Containerization Continues

Spurred by customer interest in data centers which can be quickly configured and dropped into place, more options for pre-built data centers in shipping containers became available in 2011.

More vendors joined the market as well, including Cisco and its new 40-foot containerized data centers based on its UCS (Unified Computing System) technology.

Such data centers are finding themselves on military bases, in disaster zones, and even on casino rooftops. They are also starting to be deployed in purpose-built modular data centers where they can be ordered for specific customers or for general use.

Because they are pre-integrated before being trucked or flown to the customer site, data center containers can be built for efficiency. HP, for instance, claims its containerized data centers use up to 95 percent less electricity than equivalent traditional data center architectures.

7. Government Leading The Way In Data Center Consolidation

By the end of this year, the U.S. government expects to have closed 137 of its data centers, well on its way to closing 800 data centers over the next few years. The consolidation, which is going well despite resistance from government organizations, is expected to save U.S. taxpayers up to $18.8 billion in IT costs per year as more government functions are done using cloud technology from fewer data centers.

Former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra said the government spends about $80 billion per year on IT, and has about 12,000 major systems across the globe, ranging from the Social Security Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Defense.

Streamlining that huge and fractured IT infrastructure presented a real opportunity to not only cut costs but also to increase efficiencies, Kundra said.

6. Data Center Power, Cooling Costs Front And Center

2011 saw a renewed focus on controlling the costs of powering and cooling data centers.

Cooling and power costs, while rising, are not as high as previously expected. A study by The New York Times during the first half of 2011 found that total data center equipment power consumption accounted for between 1.7 percent and 2.2 percent of total electricity use in the U.S. in 2010, way down from the up to 3.5 percent of total U.S. power consumption previously estimated based on continuing historical trends.

Data centers in 2011 continued to push the investment in new ways to control power and cooling costs, including new design methods, more efficient power output and distribution equipment, leaner server and storage technologies, and even plastic supermarket curtains to modify airflow.

5. Fragile IT Supply Chains Highlighted By Natural Disasters

The data center business in 2011 was rocked by at least four natural disasters which showed just how frail the IT supply chain can be:

4. Cisco Begins To Muscle In On HP's Server Dominance

Cisco, which entered the server business only 2.5 years ago, this Spring finally broke into the list of top five server vendors in North America thanks to its surge in blade server sales.

By year-end, Cisco had leapt over Dell to become the number three blade server vendor with a 10.7-percent market share, according to IDC.

Growth should continue for Cisco as it is expanding its UCS (Unified Computing System) from a focus on VMware virtualization to embrace Microsoft's Hyper-V.

3. HP Provides Shot In The ARM In Data Centers

HP in November unveiled plans to develop technology customers can use to investigate a new generation of energy-efficient data center architectures. To do so, it called on the help of startup server vendor and ARM partner Calxeda instead of its old partner Intel for its initial development platform.

HP's "Project Moonshot," a new program which targets the sharing of storage, networking, management, power, and cooling resources across thousands of energy-efficient servers, features a development platform based on Calxeda's ARM-based server technology.

However, HP cagily did not say it would actually sell Calxeda-based servers, thereby giving Intel time to get its Atom processor line ready for the data center big time.

2. HP's PSG Drama

When HP in August said it might sell or spin off or do something or nothing with its industry-dominating Personal Systems Group (PSG), initial reactions ran from shock to awe. Industry watchers wondered whether HP was giving up a high-revenue, low-margin business to focus on the enterprise to whether VARs would be able to continue selling a full data center portfolio of products and getting all the discounts that go with that.

HP scrambled to placate channel partners and investors, especially after Todd Bradley, HP PSG executive vice president, signaled a likely spinoff. HP Chairman Ray Lane, who also said that a spinoff was likely, said HP had no choice but to pre-announce the move because PSG was too big to keep a secret like that.

In the end, sanity prevailed and new HP President and CEO Meg Whitman said HP would keep PSG.

1. HP And Oracle Support IBM Unix By Pushing Their Own Self-Destruct Buttons

Despite all the major changes in data centers, Unix has been a constant in terms of key technologies. However, that stability was threatened in 2011 by a huge dispute between two of the three key Unix server and operating system vendors, Oracle and HP.

Oracle in March decided to stop supporting software development for HP's Itanium-based Unix servers. That touched off a seesaw of on-going lawsuits and countersuits as the two companies publicly battled over who said what in an agreement neither has made public.

That has led customers to look at their options, which include moving to Linux, keeping their existing infrastructure, or migrating to IBM, which in its last fiscal quarter became the largest server vendor by taking significant Unix share from HP and Oracle.