Top Vendors Plan to Reinvent the Data Center

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To say that the data center is undergoing a revolutionary change is more than just an understatement. The wholesale dismemberment of the siloed approach to data management in favor of a cloud-based resource pool represents nothing less than the reinvention of the wheel in digital terms.


But unlike your standard political or social revolution, which usually affects change from the ground up, the data center revolution is happening largely from the top down. That is, the powers that be are fostering the kinds of technologies that are bringing about change, and at such a blistering pace that, although welcome, can sometimes produce a fair amount of discomfort in the user community.


With that in mind, and considering we are quickly approaching the end of the year, I thought I'd take a quick scan of the dominant industry vendors to see just what, exactly, they have in mind for the data center. Not surprisingly, there is a wide range of opinions as to how things will shake out and what the most appropriate build-out strategies are.


Our first stop is Microsoft, which has made no secret of the fact that it seeks to dominate in all things software, including database technology, virtualization and the cloud. Top executives told a recent group at a Barclays conference in San Francisco that the company is aiming for high-end operations through development of server and database systems that support many-core server systems and a heavy dose of virtualization under the Windows Server 2008 platform. Expect to see a lot of live migration and an increased reliance on the software-plus-services strategy to gain a toehold in the cloud.


Over at VMware, the goal is to convince people that the company is no longer just a virtualization vendor. In the next year, the company will be all about using virtualization to enhance a number of specific functions, mainly increased flexibility and availability, improved disaster recovery and cloud computing. The effort will center largely on the upcoming Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS) that will aim to pool virtualized data center resources-mostly servers, storage and network elements-to be allocated according to user and application needs. Still up in the air, though, is whether VMware will take a stab at managing physical resources like most of its competitors are planning to do.


Opportunities in the data center are also causing some vendors to expand beyond their traditional niches. Networking giant Cisco is said to be pondering an entrance into blade server technology as the first step to becoming a soup-to-nuts IT supplier. Code-named "California," the blade would be a shot across the bow of a number of current Cisco partners, including HP and IBM. The device is rumored to be a Linux-based x86 machine, possibly containing an integrated version of the Nexus 5000 switch.


Meanwhile, HP, which has made no secret that it finds many of the promises of cloud computing dubious at best, has no reservations regarding the benefits of virtualization. The company is looking to become an end-to-end virtualization management provider through a mix of product development and strategic partnerships. The company has joined forces with VMware, BMC and CA over virtual management systems and has its hands into everything from server, storage and network virtualization to the growing field of desktop and application virtualization.


Despite the fact that vendors are driving these momentous changes in the data center, they are still responding largely to a demand-pull from the enterprise. To meet the needs of the market, any new development will, first and foremost, provide greater productivity at less cost. When things are moving quickly, there is always a temptation to join in for fear of being left behind. But in this case, it's probably best to move cautiously. Flexible and dynamic as it may be, the architecture you put in place over the next few years will probably be yours for a long, long time.