Flying High or Stuck in the Muck: Where Is the Data Center Headed?

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Five Keys to Creating the Data Center of Tomorrow

At the turn of the 20th Century, city planners in New York and other great metropolitan areas were in a state of panic. If population growth continued unabated, their cities would be rendered uninhabitable due to the enormous amounts of manure left behind by all the horses needed to cart food in for the starving masses. No one could think of a way out of this morass, save for draconian immigration restrictions that would cut the lifeblood out of the nation's spectacular industrial growth.

None of this came to pass, of course, because just around the corner were the far-less polluting, gas-powered automobile and the standardized assembly processes that allowed for low-cost/mass-volume production. By 1920, horses in central Manhattan were becoming increasingly rare.

Although it's not a perfect analogy to today's data environments, it still serves as a cautionary tale regarding long-term predictions based on current, even longstanding, trends. So it's with a grain of salt that I take statements like those from Amazon's Adam Selipsky calling for an end to the enterprise data center, which he says could happen over the next 10 or 20 years.

Now, I'm not here to tell everyone that Selipsky is flat-out wrong and the modern data center will continue to exist in its present form. But I do know that 20 years is a long time, particularly in technology circles. In 1992, mainframes were still king and hardly anyone was talking about the Internet.

Still, it's easy to see why Amazon is so bullish on the cloud. As pointed out this week, Amazon is well on the way to becoming a data services utility, responsible in some way or another for about 1 percent of all Internet traffic in North America. The company also generates about $1 billion a year in cloud-related activities and stores an estimated 762 billion objects on its S3 service. With that kind of momentum, it's no wonder Amazon would like to see virtually everyone on the cloud someday.

And yet, it's logical to ask if there are any reasons why enterprises would not want to shift to all-cloud architectures in the years ahead. It's pretty hard to argue against the technology, which is proving to be both less expensive and more flexible as user data requirements evolve. But could other factors come into play? Legal ones, perhaps? The FBI recently shut down storage provider MegaUpload and boxed up its entire server farm following its indictment on illegal file-sharing charges, essentially canceling all services to all customers whether they were involved in anything illegal or not. If all of your enterprise eggs are in someone else's cloud basket, will it be possible to ensure that no one else's eggs are running afoul (sorry) of the law?

Of course, the cloud is not necessarily the only destination for the data center. There's also the toilet, or more precisely, the large amounts of "wasted" energy that comes from out toilets. Microsoft's Christian Belady is talking up plans to locate future centers near waste disposal and water treatment facilities where there are ample supplies of what the disposal industry now calls "biogas." The idea is to harness this energy in grid-independent fuel cells to power highly efficient containerized data centers. The fuel itself is cheap, abundant and, yes, renewable.

So right off the bat we have two distinctly different visions for the data center of the future. One that is pure, white and cloud-like, and another that is, well, not. Both of them could very well come true, or not. My guess is that we'll probably see a little of both, and a whole lot of something that only a few people can conceive of at the moment.

That's usually what happens as trends and development extend over the decades.

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Apr 26, 2012 4:33 AM Michele Hudnall Michele Hudnall  says:

This is a fun article.  Reminds me of "The Mainframe is Dying" and yet it is still here.  I tend to agree with Arthur on this one, the data center will live on, but is under great change and the speed of change is coming fast.  Read more here ->

Michele Hudnall        @HudnallsHuddle    @BSMHub      @NetIQ_BSM


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