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Top 10 Data Center Trends of 2011 (Continued)

We continue with our roundup of the Top 10 Data Center Trends of 2011:

6. Economization Becomes Standard

In our year-end 2010 roundup, industry experts noted that air economization had evolved from "a curiosity implemented by a hardy few to a broadly deployed technique that really doesn’t generate much comment at this point." It's been barely three years since a landmark Intel study documenting that servers operate fine when cooled with outside air, giving data center providers in cool climates the courage to turn off their chillers and use fresh air to cool their servers. Many other data center operators have adopted water-side economization, in which cool outside air is incorporated into a heat exchanger. Large companies like Google and Microsoft were early adopters, but this year the trend has spread to the point where economization is common in new builds, even with data centers as small as 6,500 square feet. For an industry with a reputation for being resistant to change, economization has swiftly become commonplace.

7. Lines Blur Between Colo, Wholesale

A trend that started in 2010 and picked up steam was the growing competition between sellers of wholesale data center space and colocation providers on deals in some major markets. As a result, customers with requirements for 300 to 500 kilowatts of critical power now have more choices, and perhaps more leverage. “The market is much more competitive,” said Everett Thompson, President of Wired Real Estate Group. “Wholesale companies like DuPont (Fabros) and Digital (Realty Trust) are looking at smaller deals. Some of the colo players are competing for larger deals.” Is this affecting pricing? Most providers say no, but some brokers and analysts see pricing impacts in the most active markets. One sign that boundaries are blurring: In August, Equinix introduced a "wholesale lite" product that offers enclosed data center suites for customers requiring larger footprints. This marked a change for Equinix, a colocation provider that typically offers space in cabinets and cages in an open data floor.

8. Custom Servers & the Data Center Supply Chain

Facebook's Open Compute Project was notable in its use of custom server designs with motherboards and chassis built by Quanta Computer of Taiwan. This reflects another 2011 trend: for the largest data center operators, the status quo in servers is no longer good enough. Both Google and Facebook are building their own custom servers, working with original design manufacturers (ODMs) rather than buying direct from mainstream server vendors. Quanta is an ODM that customizes notebook and server designs for large customers, which Facebook chose to build thousands of custom servers for its new Oregon data center. Quanta is also rumored to be a source for custom servers at Google, prompting recent reports that Google is test-driving servers using chips from Tilera, one of the next-generation server vendors offering many-core low-power servers. Others in this category include SeaMicro and Calxeda.

9. Acronym of the Year: DCIM

As data center environments become more complex, companies are actively seeking tools to help manage them. That's why this year's hot new acronym is DCIM - short for data center infrastructure management. This software category has become more crowded in recent years, as a flurry of new companies have introduced software to manage and automate elements of the data center. Even as DCIM is emerging as a hot buzzword in the data center sector, some worry that the term is suffering from “definition creep” in which it is being expanded to describe a variety of products. Competitors include "pure-play" software companies, colocation providers, monitoring firms, providers of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tools, and vendors of power and cooling equipment.

10. Renewables & Site Location

How much does "green" power really matter in deciding where to build a data center? The inclusion of renewable energy in a facility's power mix has historically been a "nice to have" checkbox on a site selection criteria list, rather than a factor that would make or break a deal. But that may be starting to change. Facebook said last week that its data center site location policy “now states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy.” The announcement ended a long-running feud between the social network and the environmental group Greenpeace, which had targeted Facebook in a social media and PR campaign because the company’s two data centers in Oregon and North Carolina each relied upon utility power that originated primarily from coal. Issues with the cost and scalability of renewable energy have prompted most data centers to focus on energy efficiency rather than green energy.  In a poll on our site last week, "Renewable sources must be included" had a three-to-one advantage over "the price of power is paramount." It will be interesting to see if this sentiment prompts a shift from coal-sourced sites to regions with abundant renewable energy sources.

Looking for more year-end goodies? See The Top 10 Data Center Stories of 2011 for the articles that were the most popular for our readers.