Data Center 2015: Where Do We Go from Here?

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    Building Software-Defined Control for Your Data Center

    Tis the season for year-end wrap-ups and year-ahead predictions, so as in past years I will take a look at what some of the key industry players are saying and then offer my own take as to what looks real and what looks imaginary.

    One of the broadest discussions of late is the future of the data center itself. As virtualization, the cloud and software-defined architectures gain in popularity, it is not hard to imagine a software-defined data center (SDDC) consisting of an end-to-end data environment sitting entirely atop the virtual layer with nearly all hardware, save the client device outsourced to a third-party provider.

    This is part of what IDC describes as the 3rd Platform of innovation and growth. Accompanied by advances like mobile computing, Big Data analytics and social networking, the 3rd Platform characterizes what the firm says is the “new core of ICT market growth” and is already responsible for about a third of the total IT spend. For 2015, IDC expects raw compute and storage capacity to shift to cloud-based resources optimized for mobile and Big Data applications, and this will lead to the rise of “cloud first” hardware development – particularly consolidated solutions that cater to hyperscale infrastructure.

    The force driving all of this, of course, is the world’s insatiable demand for data coupled with the myriad new sources of that data that are due to arrive with the Internet of Things. As Interxion’s Bob Landstrom points out, the data industry does not follow the typical bell curve of most industries, at least it hasn’t yet. With processing and storage densities on the upswing, answered in kind by faster networking speeds and less overall power consumption, the cost of data resources is dropping rapidly. And as English economist William Stanley Jevons noted more than 100 years ago, increased efficiency in resource production doesn’t satisfy demand so much as fuel further consumption. For the data center, then, demand for cheap, reliable resources will only increase from here, and they will most likely be found on the cloud rather than in new hardware from a distributor.

    Still, IT spending is set to increase in the coming year, although not robustly, and some of that will involve traditional data center infrastructure, says research house Computer Economics. Enterprise executives will face a constant tug of war between the need to build and maintain legacy systems and invest in transitional technologies that can provide the scale and flexibility to meet increasingly broad and complex data requirements. So don’t look for a particularly robust year in data center expansion, but the deployments that do take place are likely to comprise key strategies to propel data usage into the 21st Century.

    The software-defined data center may not take over the industry in the coming year, says Cumulus Networks CEO J.R. Rivers, but it will capture the industry “mindshare.” As he told the recent DatacenterDynamics Converged gathering in London, this will come about as the enterprise sees the disadvantages of locking itself into highly engineered vendor solutions that cost a premium but often result in capacity limitations and slow development cycles. Vendors that double-down on this approach will find themselves increasingly at odds with their own customers as they gravitate toward a more open stack or take on the task of engineering their own data infrastructure.

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    We’ve heard this kind of talk from open source proponents before, of course, but this time there seems to be more truth to it than in years past. For one thing, we’ve already seen the hyperscale set create their own infrastructure using commodity hardware direct from manufacturers and they are now offering their reference architectures to the broader industry. Secondly, leading open platforms like OpenStack and OpenFlow are getting in on the ground floor of the new cloud-based infrastructure, rather than trying to infiltrate legacy data center environments.

    The entire process is not likely to unfold in a single year, however, so it seems that 2015 will be another transition year between the hardware-centric and software/app-centric data center. But the trend lines for the rest of the decade are clearly pointing toward increased reliance on the cloud and a highly dense, uber-efficient data center.

    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, Carpathia and NetMagic.

    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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