Four Trends Driving the Data Center of the Future

Dave Hart

A transformation of the data center is under way thanks to vrtualization and a wave of new IT infrastructure.

How do you transform your data center from its current stove-pipe approach to the technology and process of the much-heralded next-generation data center? When I sift through the list of great and visionary qualities that many believe will define the data center of the future, I view these four as having the highest potential impact, which means they most likely will be broadly adopted in the near term:

1. Virtualization, with physical world restraints removed.
2. Increasing focus on power and cooling efficiency.
3. Shift to industry standard hardware.
4. Based on ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) standards.

Leveraging the True Benefits of Virtualization

One thing is certain: The data center of the future is virtualized. To many, this means running multiple virtual machines on the same physical hardware. This brings great efficiency to the server side of the data center equation, but that is only half of the true benefit of virtualization. Mobility of applications is perhaps a greater benefit.

When operating systems and applications are abstracted from the underlying hardware, the physical-world constraints are removed. For example, if applications no longer need to be tied to a specific hardware infrastructure set, our data center is no longer a physical place, but can exist wherever appropriate server and storage capacity are available with the necessary intelligent network infrastructure to connect them. This allows us to compute in our own 'private clouds'-virtualized infrastructure that we own or control-or to take advantage of 'public clouds'-virtualized infrastructure that is available to us on a fee-for-service consumption model-as our business or compute requirements demand.

Amping up the Power and Cooling Efficiency

We all got a wakeup call in the summer of 2008, with oil at $145 a barrel combined with many data centers having available rack space, but no power capacity to electrify them or to cool the hosted electronics. One of the only positive attributes of the current global economic downturn is the relief we have seen in energy prices as demand has ebbed. As the world economy recovers, we should expect competition for scarce energy resources to return. According to recent research from Hewlett-Packard, 1 to 2 percent of energy consumption in the United States is tied to powering and cooling data centers.

Fortunately, the IT industry has responded. Beyond server virtualization, which allows us to host many virtual machines on a single hardware platform, many manufacturers have developed innovative hardware and software that makes computing more energy efficient. For example, Intel's latest Xeon processor 5600 series automatically regulates power consumption and intelligently adjusts server performance according to your needs. Cisco has introduced its EnergyWise technology, which brings disparate networks, services, and network-attached devices into a common view and set of policies for measuring and optimizing organizational power consumption. Both HP and IBM have released next-generation servers combining Intel power-management technology with new software and greater than 90 percent efficient power supplies, dramatically reducing power and cooling requirements from the previous generation. Major storage suppliers like EMC are including flash drives and low-power SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) that drive into their product lines to make the power consumed per megabyte of storage significantly smaller. 

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