2011: The Year Ahead

What will be the big trends in data center design and operations in 2011? We surveyed some of the leading thinkers in the field, and got their thoughts about the trends that will make news this year. Their predictions cover a lot of ground. But a key theme was the emergence of a holistic approach to the data center, that integrates the many technologies, departments and processes that historically have created challenges for the industry.

These problems are not new, or easy to overcome. So why the optimism that there will be progress in 2011? Our experts see the convergence of cost control, cloud computing and containers driving major changes in how companies plan, design build and operate data centers. Here’s a look at the key trends highlighted by our panel.

Cloud Computing

After several years of excitement and hype, analysts say the market for cloud computing is entering a phase of more rational assessment. There’s no question that IT operations will begin shifting to cloud platforms, which offer an additional option in a growing menu of deployment options.

“In 2011, we will see a faster erosion of enterprise class data centers as more and more applications for e-commerce are deployed in public cloud facilities,” said Deborah Grove of Grove & Associates, who said maturing cloud platforms are realizing the vision of “the data center without walls we couldn’t even describe five years ago. If I were signing leased space for data centers, I’d like to think I took these into account before I signed my agreements.”

“In 2011 we’re going to understand what the implication of the cloud really will be,” said Jim Kerrigan, the director of the data center practice at the real estate firm Grubb & Ellis.

That impact may vary widely among customers and providers. Cloud computing has gained traction among small businesses, but enterprise adoption has been muted by concerns about security and regulatory compliance requirements. For providers of wholesale data center space, the growth of cloud computing has meant large deals with cloud service providers with growing operations. Last year Rackspace leased major amounts of space from DuPont Fabros, while Terremark signed several large deals with Digital Realty Trust.

Thus, whether the cloud trend is an opportunity or threat is likely to depend upon where a company is positioned in the data center industry ecosystem.

Cheaper, More Efficient Hardware

Amazon’s James Hamilton sees server-level power efficiency as a key trend for 2011. Hamilton, a Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services. predicts that we’ll see attention on “microslice” servers – low cost, bare-bones servers that others in the industry refer to as “wimpy servers.”

“Next year will see production systems at sub-30 watt power points, some running very low-power x86 parts and others ARM-based processors,” said Hamilton, who has written about this trend.

Grove says some of the biggest advances will come from startups whose products are still months and even years from production. “The most significant development in the data center industry in 2010 was the influx of several young companies offering up a vision of energy-efficient semi-conductors,” she said. “This will turn the industry on its head when their claims of 50% to 80% increases in power efficiency are substantiated in pilot studies – but we won’t see the results of their pilots yet in 2011.”

Hamilton also sees changes in the networking sector, the development of open source software like OpenFlow and competition between switch chip makers may change the economics of the network. “Looking at the networking world, we’ll see more progress on a multi-year evolution to networking at 1/5 to 1/10th the cost of what we see today,” said Hamilton. (see Networking Ripe for Innovation for more on this trend).

Mark Thiele, co-founder of Data Center Pulse and VP of Data Center Strategy at ServiceMesh, sees changes in how data center hardware vendors work with customers. “Hardware acquisition will change to a risk sharing model,” said Thiele. “Large vendors will take more of a ‘pay for it when you start to use it’ or ‘pay for how much you use as you use it’ approach with their customers.”

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