Separating needs from wants is an age-old exercise when it comes to planning for the future. And since year's end is the optimal time to figure out where things are headed, the time is right to look closely at what are likely to be top priorities for the data center in the coming months.
To be sure, the trade press is full of its annual forecasts for data technology for the new year, and I'll have a series of roundups regarding some of the leading systems categories next week. But there is a difference between what analysts say will be the driving forces of markets and industries and what data center managers say they need to keep their heads above water in an increasingly turbulent digital sea.
In short, it looks like data centers are not only looking for ways to become more productive, but more reliable, even as they oversee smaller portions of the infrastructure that users need to complete their tasks.
A recent survey from CableExpress, for example, indicates that business continuity, uptime and disaster recovery are top concerns when developing new infrastructure. In that light, converged data fabrics are in high demand because they not only simplify networking infrastructure and increase data agility, but enable a number of advanced management and configuration options that improve resilience and foster highly elastic data environments.
Of course, priorities shift depending on existing levels of technology. Riverbed recently canvassed data professionals in the United Arab Emirates — not a data infrastructure backwater by any stretch of the imagination — and found that server virtualization and WAN optimization remain top priorities for more than half. This could be a function of the wider telecommunications infrastructure, given that more than 70 percent say they would take advantage of higher order applications like remote data backup if they had more bandwidth.
Of course, needs differ from wants in one substantial aspect: Needs are usually forced upon us by external pressures, while wants arise from our own desires. In that light, data center needs will be foisted upon us by a number of macro developments taking place in technology, the economy and user demands, according to Data Center Journal's Jeffrey Clark. An uncertain economy will likely dampen IT spends, except in cases where capex can be quickly recouped by ROI. Efficiency is likely to be the watchword across all manner of data center initiatives, whether they focus on internal improvements or greater reliance on third-party cloud services and infrastructure.
Indeed, this is what occupies the mind of Apple legend Steve Wozniak in his new post as chief scientist at Fusion-io. The rise of mobile data environments, for example, is likely to have a significant impact on data center infrastructure, spanning everything from the apps that are supported to the hardware that is deployed. Ultimately, the need to foster broad user and data collaboration will override the need to build around single platforms — both on the infrastructure and application levels.
Prioritizing spending on data infrastructure is likely to be a matter of give and take for some time to come. On the one hand, the enterprise has a vested interest in maintaining traditional data center platforms. On the other, demand is growing for the kind of broad collaboration and near-universal availability that is only available through advanced cloud architectures.
It is unlikely that all these needs will be met to everyone's satisfaction — in fact, the chances of this happening are practically nil. But the industry can only move as fast as finances allow, and that will have to be good enough for everyone involved in 2013.