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The top 10 data center stories of 2009

This year was marked by technology innovation and economic upheaval, but data center pros rolled with the change. Here are the top data center stories of 2009, ranked by popularity.

In 2009, there was no shortage of data center news. IBM was going to buy Sun Microsystems, then Oracle jumped into the race, vowing to field a software-hardware powerhouse. That still-pending deal, along with recession-related news, topped the charts for news coverage last year. Reflecting on the past year, here are the top 10 data center stories of 2009 ranked by the most read.

Oracle agrees to buy Sun Microsystems, puts data centers in limbo through 2010
The biggest story of 2009 was Oracle's proposed acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Oracle agreed to buy the struggling hardware company in April 2009 for $7.4 billion, after an IBM's bid to buy Sun broke down.

Oracle initially came out strong in an effort to keep Sun customers from defecting to Hewlett-Packard or IBM, promising to spend more money developing Solaris, Sparc and MySQL than Sun had previously. But European Commission regulators held up the deal's completion through 2010, citing concerns about how Oracle would handle the Sun-owned the MySQL database. In the meantime, Oracle's potential new hardware business struggled. Sun laid off employees and some -- notably Oracle CEO Larry Ellison --claimed that Sun hemorrhages $100 million per month. Analysts have speculated that Sun Microsystems is no longer worth the $7.4 billion Oracle agreed to pay for it, and companies would be wise to expect a Sun Microsystems asset yard sale in the future. Check out's Sun Microsystems customer roadmap.

Economic downturn: Data centers scramble to deal with shrinking budgets, staff
Between February and March 2009, surveyed data center managers on how they were coping in the economic downturn. Nearly 70% of survey respondents said they faced IT budget cuts, and one-third had cuts of more than 20%. The largest budget cuts came in the form of staff layoffs. Data center managers also stretched server deployments: more than 35% kept servers in production for six months to a year longer, 34% planned to extend server lifecycles by two years.

Six months later, initial analysis of Data Center Purchasing Intentions Survey indicated that budgets had flattened and the bleeding had stopped. But when international data was separated from the mix, it turned out that U.S. IT budgets were hit harder than those abroad. In the U.S., 20% of IT shops faced budget cuts of greater than 10%, compared with only 11% of non-U.S. IT shops.

IBM clamps down on mainframe challengers, draws ire of antitrust regulators
IBM ruled the mainframe market with an iron fist for decades. But last year, Big Blue faced U.S. Department of Justice inquiries into its mainframe business practices. Historically, IBM faced competition from mainframe hardware competitors like Amdahl, companies that offered less-expensive hardware that were compatible with IBM mainframe software.

But in 2008, IBM bought upstart mainframe hardware vendor PSI to quash the possibility of mainframe software running on Intel chips. T3 Technologies, another company pushing for z/OS on Intel, and the Computer & Communications Industry Association filed antitrust complaints. The Department of Justice investigation is ongoing.

IBM also battled Neon Enterprise Software last year.

Neon's zPrime software allowed mainframe users to offload work from a mainframe's central processors to less costly specialty engines: the z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) and the z Application Assist Processor (zAAP). By avoiding some costs associated with running workloads on the central processor, mainframe customers could save millions of dollars in fees paid to IBM, reducing the cost of mainframe computing considerably. IBM warned customers that using zPrime would violate IBM's intellectual property agreement. But mainframers countered that IBM's hardball tactics would drive mainframe customers to embrace cheaper distributed platforms. In the end, an IT manager with whom we spoke agreed that IBM does not have a monopoly on business computing, but for companies in a mainframe stranglehold, it sure can feel like it.

Cisco jumps into the server hardware business
In April 2009, networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. jumped into the server market with its Unified Computing System (UCS), a server-networking-storage hardware combo with a big memory footprint designed for high throughput and virtualization workloads. HP soon followed suit, and then purchased networking company 3Com. Industry observers have already claimed that UCS is the future of the server platform, but users , fear vendor lock-in. Nonetheless, some companies, such as Taser Corp. jumped onboard the UCS bandwagon whole-hog.

The 451 Group buys Uptime Institute, refocuses on tiers
The 451 Group, the parent company of IT consultancy 451 Research and hosting and colocation research firm Tier1 Research, purchased data center facilities consulting think-tank, the Uptime Institute in October 2009. Best known for its development of the Uptime Tier Rating system, the Uptime Institute has been the dominant voice in the IT industry for data center facilities issues. But in recent years, Uptime has struggled, facing criticism about its data center facilities tier system from industry heavyweights and has even fought turf wars with the Green Grid. Uptime's member companies hope that the acquisition will improve the Uptime Institute's future viability.

ASHRAE raises recommended inlet air temperature for servers
In Janaury, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (AHRAE) expanded its recommended data center temperature and humidity ranges. That means servers can now operate safely with inlet air temps up to 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit (versus 77 degrees previously). ASHRAE also expanded the allowable humidity range for server environments. By raising inlet air temperatures on servers, data center managers could save big time on data center cooling bills and take further advantage of free cooling economizer technologies. Unfortunately, most data center pros still operate facilities as thought they were run meat lockers instead of server farms.

SaaS-based IT management software catches on
Data center pros are fed up with IT management software installations and upgrades that span months or years and that require an army of professional services people. Instead, companies have increasingly turned to subscription-based IT management tools, using the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Some high-profile customers jumped ship from Big Four systems management vendors to upstart company Service-Now, and the often slow-moving mega vendors in this space have scrambled to offer similar tools and subscription models.

Hot-aisle/cold aisle containment takes off
In 2009, nearly half of all data centers adopted some kind of hot-aisle/cold-aisle containment strategy, and experts say that number will be closer to 90% next year. Hot-aisle/cold-aisle containment systems began as physical barriers that separate the hot- and cold-aisle airflow through makeshift design solutions like vinyl plastic sheeting or Plexiglas fit over the racks. Today, vendors offer ducted plenum systems and other commercial options to create significant energy savings. The debate rages on whether hot-or cold-aisle containment is the better approach.

Cloud computing hype causes data center backlash
If you're not sick of the buzz surrounding cloud computing, you're not paying attention. The most overused, misunderstood, and overhyped terms of 2009 annoyed a bunch of center ops folks, including columnist Chuck Goolsbee, who fired off two "Cloud computing ain't nothing new" manifestos to a sympathetic audience. The first explains why cloud computing isn't a fit for a majority of data center applications. Goolsbee took another swing last month, debunking the five fallacies of cloud computing.

USGBC to study LEED data center proposal
In February 2009, the data center community banded together to petition the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to adopt a green building certification for data centers. The USGBC's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system is the de facto green building standard, with thousands of certified facilities in the U.S. For the past four years, various data center industry groups have approached USGBC about developing a standard specifically for data centers, but the organization has avoided addressing LEED for data centers, since data centers are a small segment of the total real estate market. But by speaking with a combined voice, the data center industry finally got the USGBC's ear.

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