Want to know what the future holds for your data center? In his keynote speech at the Gartner Data Center Conference in Las Vegas last week, Gartner Inc. Research Vice President Carl Claunch listed his top 10 disruptive technologies
For more on Gartner's Data Center Conference
Claunch said unified communications come from five markets: voicemail, private branch exchanges (PBXs), email and calendaring, conferencing, and instant messaging. Even if your data center hasn't yet incorporated these technologies, some combination of them will likely become a large part of your data center operations in the future.
"All of these groups that were disparate will be prepared to converge," he said. "You need to figure out a way to cooperatively manage these converged communications."
In the case of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), for example, Claunch said that 20% of the installed base have moved to IP telephony, but more than 80% have either done it or are testing it. But VoIP goes beyond IP telephony. Claunch gave the example of a retail store that saves security video. Traditionally, a security guard monitors video for abnormalities. In the future, however, software could replace humans and monitor for anomalies, such as the sudden movement of a large number of people to one side of a store, possibly indicating shoplifting. Data centers have to handle this influx of video data and manage it with other communications information.
As we move to a real-time infrastructure, we need to find a way of automating all of these tasks.
research vice president, Gartner Inc.
The Web as platform
The Web as platform goes beyond Software as a Service (SaaS), Claunch said. Users might be able to outsource an entire business process, such as managing accounts payable via a Web-based application.
For data center managers, Web-based services are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you may not maintain the software, but you're still responsible for ensuring service levels.
Claunch added that the Web also offers promise in terms of information delivery. Instead of mailing information to customers in the traditional way, the Web enables development and packaging of information and delivery of it over the Web.
IT operations process automation
Gartner estimates that operational error causes about 40% of all outages. Why? Because as technology gets cheaper, the same number of people have more to manage. Errors will happen.
"When you have these two trends, they intersect at points, and it's time to shift what was human labor to automation," he said. "As we move to a real-time infrastructure, we need to find a way of automating all of these tasks."
Server fabrics: A step beyond blades
Claunch envisions a day when you have a blade chassis filled with fabric-based, or component, servers. Rather than every server having its own motherboard, you buy a certain amount of processor blades, memory blades and I/O blades and slide them into the chassis as needed.
"It allows you to get even more efficient in how you stock resources," he said. "You buy the total number of processors and memory you need and then change them as the workloads change."
Claunch tied this to service-oriented architecture, or SOA, and how applications are now built from different services and tied together in one point. The key to connecting them is having the underlying data for each application.
"One of the major projects to develop is to look through the data layer you have and make sure you've got it in position so that in the future you can combine sets of data."
According to Gartner, through 2009 the implementation of a configuration and change management strategy will reduce downtime by as much as 35%.
"Knowing what is actually happening is important to making sure it is working right," he said. "If you try to respond to a problem based on outdated information, you make mistakes."
Mashups and composite applications
Though not ready for prime time, Claunch said the ability to combine sources from different applications to give a single-page snapshot of all the information you need to know is powerful. But you have to monitor the various systems from where that source information comes.
"Mashups are a pretty useful tool, but [they do] have implications because you're looking at a source of content that doesn't come from just one server anymore," he said.
Virtualization: beyond consolidation
Claunch said that virtualization is like a "Swiss army knife." It has so many capabilities that it's a disservice to view server virtualization as a tool only for consolidation. By isolating applications from operating systems and operating systems from the hardware, you open up possibilities and flexibilities you wouldn't have previously.
"If we think of IT operations, it's this dense spider web of interdependence," he said. "So anytime we have to make a change, we have to think of the consequences. Virtualization helps us decouple from that."
Some possibilities: Moving workloads from one physical box to another, aggregating a bunch of small servers to look like a big one, and destroying the 1:1 hardware relationship typical of traditional disaster recovery techniques.
Social networking tools
Tools like wikis break down the hierarchical view of how information is distributed, Claunch said. They transform information distribution into a peer-to-peer and participatory method.
He also cited technologies like social bookmarks and blogs as avenues through which companies can grow.
"These social technologies have some promise," he said. "You should look at these and find out which ones are valuable and pioneer them."
Claunch said green IT comes down to one major issue: power and heat. But there are two branches to this tree. The first is the tactical branch: The fact that data centers are running out of power, cooling and space forces companies to re-engineer existing data centers or build facilities anew. The second branch -- the corporate social responsibility branch -- involves political issues. By making data centers more efficient, you expend less power and reduce carbon footprint and are more likely to be considered "green," which has become the cool thing to be.
"Having a greener, more efficient environment is part of the corporate responsibility model," Claunch said.