Modern data center strategy: Design, hardware and IT's changing role
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Mobile computing and other trends have dramatically altered how enterprises work, requiring data centers to find new ways to meet computing demands.
Cloud computing, flash storage, software-defined networks (SDN), virtualization and new data center management tools will help data center managers deliver the data their customers or end users need.
Those technologies will also lead to data center modernization.
Cloud computing enhances data access
Cloud computing represents the most transformative technology for data centers, as it offers a way to provide data access to any type of Internet-connected device.
More and more services, whether they are applications or business as a service, are going to the cloud, resulting in data centers and carriers re-architecting themselves, said Brian Lillie, CIO of Equinix, a global data center provider.
While enterprises have begun to incorporate the use of public, private and hybrid clouds into their business model, adoption isn't widespread just yet.
To date, less than a quarter of businesses say they use private cloud, and even fewer have adopted public cloud services, according to the 625 respondents of a 2013 TechTarget data center survey (see sidebar).
Part of the reason companies consider the cloud is cost savings; in some cases, cloud services are cheaper than investing in infrastructure, software and maintenance for on-premises IT.
"By virtue of scale, focus and innovation, cloud operators drive the costs for their delivery platform," said Andrew Lawrence, an analyst at 451 Research, a New York-based IT research firm.
The cloud may also result in more use of low-power, low-cost blade servers and microservers that offer more computing power in less space.
"Everyone is creating a new cloud stack and moving toward the blade server," said Vishal Sharma, vice president of IT at Earthlink, which operates colocation data centers throughout the U.S.
Flash storage improves data center performance
The advent of flash storage arrays will impact data centers by providing faster data access, reduced storage array space and power savings.
The new storage technology stems from startups such as Pure Storage, Nimbus Data, Violin Memory, WhipTail Technologies and a host of others.
TechTarget recently fielded a survey consisting of 1,155 enterprise respondents. Results among the 625 respondents who answered a question about plans for their public or private cloud deployment in the next 12 months showed that 20.2% of companies have implemented a private cloud, and 15.5% will do so within the next 12 months. In comparison, in 2012, 16.2% said they implemented a private cloud and only 8.2% said they planned to do so in the next 12 months.
Only 5.3% of the 625 survey respondents said they implemented a public cloud in 2013, compared with 3.9% in 2012. Just 4.5% planned to implement a public cloud in the next 12 months.
Flash will be primarily relevant for high-performance computing applications used by the financial-services industry. Having a millisecond advantage for a transaction can be worth millions of dollars in the fast-paced financial sector.
Equinix has begun incorporating flash storage arrays in its data centers to optimize performance, Lillie said. There is a whole suite of applications served by flash storage arrays that fits in a smaller footprint, and can serve in a distributed mode all over the world, he added.
To date, the cost for flash storage arrays is still high and a more likely model is a hybrid scenario where certain applications use flash and others use traditional spinning disks and tape drives.
"How fast and how far [flash] will go will depends on the manufacturing costs and the pricing of it," said 451 Research's Lawrence.
He predicted that by 2018, flash will become cheaper than high-end disks.
"If flash comes down in price … then it will have a dramatic effect on data centers in the future, but we doubt we will see all-flash data centers," he said.
Software-defined networking to improve data routing
SDN is expected to impact data centers by enabling more efficient data routing.
"If you look at the data center itself, [the network is] one of the most expensive real estate in all of computing," said Prakash Sinha, vice president of Radware's application delivery controller business. Radware is based in Tel Aviv, Israel.
SDN promises to deliver more efficient data routing throughout the network and may provide a return on investment not only for data center operators, but for enterprise customers, as well.
With SDN, IT administrators can use a centralized control console without manually configuring hardware. Network administrators set up rules and prioritize when data packets will get sent throughout the network to improve service.
SDN also helps data centers secure the data being routed to end users. It can provide different security layers against issues such as denial-of-service (DoS) attacks. IT can also secure the data pipe and ensure data is encrypted so a malicious attacker cannot see stolen data if it is retrieved.
Virtualization to increase data center efficiency
Server virtualization is a mainstream technology that has given way to network virtualization, which can add to data center efficiency by creating smaller subsets of networks within one network infrastructure. This way, multiple virtualized networks can coexist on one physical network.
Beyond networks, virtualization in general continues to make an impact in the data center among enterprise users.
"We think virtualization is really important and it's in the middle of transforming data centers dramatically," Lawrence said.
Others say that virtualization will continue to be particularly important for data center efficiency.
"We are trying to leverage the inherent efficiencies that come with virtual technologies and looking at the cloud," said Edmund Oca, a data center consultant in Long Beach, Calif. Oca works with the data centers of large corporations in the health care and entertainment industry. "From a facilities and operational perspective, we are pretty efficient. Anything we would change to our operations [to reduce cost] is an initial value add," he said.
Data center management tools
Data center management tools are becoming more mature with better monitoring and provisioning of physical hardware, said Glenn Ford, senior analyst covering multi-tenant data center research at 451 Research.
The market research firm recently forecasted the global multi-tenant data center market growing at 18.85% CAGR from 2010 to 2014, with the North America MTDC market growing at 18.65% CAGR over the same period.
Self-healing in storage and large UPS management devices have built-in diagnostic tools that notice when something goes wrong and send out an electronic notification to the vendor to take steps, he noted.