What will the data center look like in 2025? Enterprise data centers will be much smaller, power densities will be much higher, and the majority of IT workloads will have moved to cloud computing platforms. That's the consensus from data center professionals surveyed by Emerson Network Power for its Data Center 2025 Project, who were tasked to imagine what facilities will look like 11 years from now.
For perspective, consider how much has changed since 2003. That was the era of the dot-com bust, a surplus of data center capacity, rack densities in the 250 watt to 1.5 kW range, and no social media revolution.
"We didn’t know what to expect," said Steve Hassell President, Data Center Solutions at Emerson. "We wanted to step all the way back and get a feel of where the industry is going. There were expected results such as increased utilization of the cloud, and some ambitious predictions, such as largely solar-powered data centers and power densities exceeding 50kW per rack.
"The common denominator was that most believe we’ll undergo a massive change to parallel the change that occurred the 11 years prior," added Hassell. "The pace of change is only going to increase."
Smaller Data Centers
Emerson tapped over 800 data center professionals to generate the findings for Data Center 2025. Sixty seven percent of participants believe at least 60 percent of computing will be cloud-based in the year 2025. It’s also likely that enterprise data centers will at least shrink in size: 58 percent expect that data centers will be half the size of current facilities or smaller, while 10 percent of participants believe the enterprise data center of 2025 will be one-tenth the size of current facilities.
"The enterprise data center will take less space," said Hassell. "With cloud adoption at 60 percent, probably what they were thinking about is core data centers that are very large, and with enterprise data centers, we’re seeing a move to computing at the edge.”
Survey participants don’t envision radical changes in current approaches to data center thermal management. Forty-one percent expect a combination of air and liquid to be the primary method of data center cooling. Only 20 percent see ambient air, or free cooling, emerging as the primary means of thermal management, and just 9 percent see the emergence of immersive cooling.
Higher Densities, But Better Efficiency
What about power? On average, experts predict power density in 2025 will climb to 52 kilowatts per rack. However, a significant majority of participants in survey (64 percent) believe that it will require less energy in 2025 to produce the same level of data center computing performance available today.
Despite long-held expectations of soaring power densities, Emerson Network Power’s Data Center Users’ Group notes that average density has remained relatively flat since peaking at 6kW nearly a decade ago. Yet the Data Center 2025 findings predict a radical change that will affect the physical environment of the data center.
Other notable survey results and forecasts from the report:
- Big changes in how data centers are powered: The experts believe a mix of sources will be used to provide electrical power to data centers. Solar will lead, followed by a nearly equal mix of nuclear, natural gas and wind. Sixty-five percent believe it is likely hyperscale facilities will be powered by private power generation.
- Cloud forecasts are somewhat conservative: Industry experts predict two-thirds of data center computing will be done in the cloud in 2025. That’s actually a fairly conservative estimate. According to Cisco’s Global Cloud Index, cloud workloads represent around 46 percent of current total data center workloads, and will reach 63 percent by 2017.
- DCIM will play a prominent role: Twenty-nine percent of experts anticipate comprehensive visibility across all systems and layers, while 43 percent expect data centers to be self-healing and self optimizing. Taken together, that would indicate 72 percent of the experts believe some level of DCIM will be deployed in 2025—significantly higher than most current estimates of DCIM adoption.
- Utilization rates will be higher: That increased visibility is expected to lead to more efficient performance overall, as 72 percent of industry experts expect IT resource utilization rates to be at least 60 percent in 2025. The average projection is 70 percent. That compares to estimated averages today as low as 6-12 percent, with best practices somewhere between 30-50 percent.
The report also discusses potential opportunities to improve efficiency, such as chip-level cooling, increased server efficiency, higher data center temperatures and streamlined power delivery. But there won;t be any one-size-fits-all patterns emerging.
“The data center of 2025 certainly won’t be one data center. The analogy I like to use is to transport,” said Andy Lawrence, vice president of Datacenter Technologies and Eco-efficient IT at 451 Research. “On the road, we see sports cars and family cars; we see buses and we see trucks. They have different kinds of engines, different types of seating and different characteristics in terms of energy consumption and reliability. We are going to see something similar to that in the data center world. In fact that is already happening, and I expect it to continue.”
"The future, to us, is looking increasingly like one that is automated, and converged," said Emerson's Hassell, "The facility side and the IT side is coming together and operating as an integrated unit. It’s the only way to deal with the speed and complexity."