The Data Center in 2017 and Beyond

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    As the enterprise gets ready to close the books on 2016, one of the key questions it faces is what to do with the data center.

    The complex, costly behemoth that has served as a necessary evil for so long is now ripe for a significant makeover, but exactly what form it will assume going forward is still an open question. Complicating matters is the fact that decisions regarding data infrastructure in the coming year will have significant consequences for the next-generation data environment, which itself is in a state of flux as traditional operating models are replaced with emerging service-based workflows.

    According to Avinash Lakshman, CEO of storage developer Hedvig and creator of the Apache Cassandra platform, enterprise executives should plan their data center upgrades around five key elements. First, multi-cloud architectures are emerging as the new normal, meaning the local data center will no longer act as the primary repository for data and applications. As well, infrastructure will become streamlined through technologies like in-memory computing, while content delivery and other functions will transition to self-service modes of operation. Expect a higher level of automation and machine learning as well, which in turn will produce greater value for metadata, perhaps to the point where it can be monetized.

    Political events may impact data center strategies as well. The recent Brexit vote, for example, has caused uncertainty over rules regarding data protection and locality, say Schneider Electric’s Steven Carlini, Victor Avelar and Patrick Donovan, which can affect the design and function of facilities in Europe’s second-largest data center market. It seems likely that demand for cloud-based services will continue to grow, however, and this could affect the cost of hardware, software and services, as well as the growth of edge data centers and highly modular, largely autonomous infrastructure. The trio is also expecting an uptick in the deployment of Lithium-Ion power sources at the expense of traditional valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries.

    It is hard to overestimate the impact that the shift to cloud-based environments will have on the data center, says tech analyst R. “Ray” Wang. By the end of the decade, the cloud’s share of the total data workload will jump from today’s 6 or 7 percent to 67 percent, which will fuel demand for hyperscale infrastructure, chip level security, integrated Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) stacks and open, software-defined architectures. One of the key drivers behind all of these trends will be to scale up performance while keeping energy consumption and other operational costs under control. In fact, if the scale of operations for top hyperscale providers is anywhere close to expectations, power efficiency ratings may need to increase 100-fold.

    Indeed, says a new report from Vertiv (formerly Emerson Network Power), the data center industry will likely diverge along two tracks in the coming year as organizations gravitate toward giant, centralized cloud facilities and distributed microcenters on the edge. This places a lot of pressure on system developers to think small in terms of actual components and devices, but large when it comes to the ability to connect and coordinate a rising multitude of data streams. To accomplish this task, organizations will need to embrace high degrees of standardization and modularity on the hardware level even as greater customization and flexibility emerge in management middleware and upper-layer application frameworks.

    The enterprise data center is truly entering a brave new world as 2016 comes to a close. In the past, new technologies have focused on making data operations faster, smoother and leaner, but at the end of the day, those operations remained largely as they were in years past. This time, however, technology is poised to remake the process itself, and in turn upend longstanding business models that largely required organizations to build and maintain ever-expanding in-house data infrastructure.

    If these trends play out as expected, in a few short years, the presence of an enterprise data center may be purely optional – and even the largest that remain on-premises will be no bigger than a refrigerator.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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