10 Data Center Predictions For 2012

The Virtually Cloudy, Ever Growing, Ever Greening Data Center

Data centers are going through a rash of significant changes as operators, whether individual businesses or service providers, look to take advantage of new technologies to mitigate the impact of ever-changing workloads.

Customers want their data centers to do more numerous and more complicated operations, but they don't want to spend more money to do it. So that means 2012 will see a lot more virtualized resources, more clouds, and more new equipment, even as operators look for ways to use less power and less cooling equipment.

2012 will bring the whole concept of the data center into a new light. Continue on, and see some of the ways this will happen in the coming year.

10. Clouds Will Take Over The Data Center

Customer adoption of cloud computing will be a driving force behind future data center investments in 2012 and beyond.

Established businesses will still focus mainly on developing private clouds based on their existing data center infrastructures, thereby making those infrastructures more flexible while maintaining direct control over their own corporate data and operations. At the same time, they will explore expanded use of public clouds for handling temporary excess workloads.

For startups, the temptation will be to ignore purchasing their own servers, storage, and networking gear altogether and move IT operations directly to public clouds, giving them operational efficiency from Day One.

9. Data Center Spending To Blossom

Private cloud, public cloud, or neither, spending on data centers will continue to grow in 2012 as businesses and service providers respond to the new workload dynamics.

Analyst firm Gartner is predicting that worldwide data center hardware spending in 2012 will reach $106.4 billion, up from 2010 spending of $87.8 billion, and that it will exceed $126 billion in 2015.

More of that spending will go towards larger data centers, which Gartner defined as having 500 or more racks of equipment, than in the past.

8. More Smaller Data Centers

While the bulk of new data center investments will continue to flow towards larger operations, 2012 will likely also see an increasing number of smaller data centers as IT solution providers invest in ways to take the strain off their business customers.

These new, smaller data centers, perhaps a room or a small building that is part of a larger operation run by solution providers, will allow solution providers to provide more services, such as security and storage, to take the place of on-premises equipment.

Those services could be run from larger data centers on a co-location basis, but solution providers could do it themselves and keep more of the profit inside the company instead of sending it to a third party. They already have the necessary space and the technical knowhow to handle the support.

7. Data Center Numbers? More, And Less...

While the government is implementing a program to consolidate and cut about 800 data centers by 2015, and businesses consolidate data centers as they go through merges and acquisitions, others are building more data centers.

Some are massive, such as those planned by service providers like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon to take advantage of new demand. Others are tiny, as seen in the previous page. In between will be many new data centers built to take advantage of local conditions, either because easy access to a local power grid or to unused bandwidth. Others are being built where they can take advantage of solar or wind power. Also driving data center builds are cool weather, which can cut operating costs by using outside air to replace air conditioning.

6. Data Center Spending To Shift: Bigger, More Virtualization

Businesses are running more and larger workloads, but they are not increasing spending to run those workloads. Instead, the investment is and will continue to be more on larger, more powerful servers and storage that can run those workloads in virtualized environments.

Virtual servers running enterprise workloads already far outnumber physical servers, and 2012 will see the gap continue to grow even faster than it has. However, rather than lessen the need for data centers, either within the enterprise or third-party facilities, the number of physical servers sold will continue to rise. The performance of many of those servers will continue to increase in order to meet the needs of the new virtualized workloads.

However, server performance increase is not a given. Instead, a large part of the server investment will go towards workloads that can sacrifice performance for power savings.

5. More Virtualized Appliances

Most hardware appliances can be turned into virtual appliances by just removing the hardware and substituting it for a virtual server.

The virtualization of appliances will grow exponentially in 2012. A big part of that will be thanks to VMware, which in 2011 introduced its VSA (vSphere Storage Appliance) as a way to virtualize many of the storage appliances used in virtual server appliances.

Storage, security, firewall, communications, Web, and other appliances can all go virtual.

And the best part? Those virtual appliances can be migrated to public cloud infrastructures. And migrated back. And forth. This helps lay the groundwork for hybrid cloud computing.

4. Power Saving? Green? Take Your Pick

A big focus of data center investment in 2012 will be on technologies to help save power. That will include continuing adoption of virtualization, cloud technology, more power-efficient server and other equipment, and more efficient power distribution and air conditioning. Also look for adoption of new ways to build data center buildings, including the use of ambient air or solar power to cut power consumption.

Cutting power consumption will be a good marketing move. Not that vendors will focus their marketing on cutting power consumption. The marketing buzz will just as likely be around "green" as vendors and their customers tout the environmental benefits of lower power consumption.

We can also expect thermostats to be moved upwards from the mid-60s to the 70s and 80s temperature-wise as more equipment manufacturers certify their server, storage, and other gear to run in warmer environments.

3. ARM And Atom: Server Power Consumption To Go On A Diet

The trend to cut data power consumption is clear, but will no where be as obvious as in the server industry where Intel will battle the ARM community for data center dominance.

The struggle to cut server power consumption will likely be most played out in a battle between ARM and Intel's Atom. Developers of processors based on ARM technology grabbed a bit of the high ground late last year when HP unveiled a new data center development platform based on ARM-based servers from Calxeda. However, HP was careful to leave the door open for Intel's Atom processor by publicly saying it would not sell the Calxeda servers for now.

The next move will be from Intel, which has moved up development of server versions of its Atom processor which, unlike ARM processors, maintains x86 software compatibility.

2. 40-Gbit Ethernet The New Baseline Networking

As the performance and numbers of data center workloads both continue to rise, 10-Gbit Ethernet networking performance at the top of the rack will become saturated.

2012 will see widespread adoption of 40-Gbit Ethernet in top-of-rack networking equipment, a move that will be increasingly adopted by server manufacturers who can be expected to also add 40-GbE technology inside their servers.

The need for speed will also start driving the adoption of 100-GbE technology for connections between core switches in data centers.

1. VDI Coming, But Switching Between Corporate And Personal

It seems every year for the last 10 years has been prematurely designated the Year Of The Virtual Desktop. Well, 2012 should prove to be no exception, but with a new twist: The push for virtualization at the client will not be driven by businesses.

Instead, businesses in 2012 will be investing heavily in technologies that allow their employees to use their own devices, including personal laptops, tablet PCs, and smart phones as ways of accessing corporate data. That adoption, driven by younger workers already wedded to their own devices, means logistical nightmares for data center administrators who need to support a variety of personal devices and make them safe from a security perspective. In response, expect increased adoption of virtualization technologies that make it easier for users to securely switch between personal and corporate workloads.