Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst who has been tracking the ups and downs of IT through this golden age of computing, recently posted an interesting observation: “When touring data centers, I've often noticed that facilities designed 10 or more years ago have quite a bit of empty space. Systems, storage, power and networking equipment have gotten far more powerful and smaller in the intervening years.”
I have spoken with insurance CIOs in recent years who said the same of their own data centers: they're getting increasingly consolidated with smaller, more powerful and more virtualized systems. So there's a bit of a paradox taking place: data centers are shrinking, yet getting bigger at the same time. They're doing more than they have ever been doing before — supporting many more users, especially from outside the organization, running clouds, housing big data, and getting smarter and smarter.
Kusnetzky notes that our notion of the “data center” is changing along with it. It's becoming less of the big room with multiple servers and storage areas, and more of a virtual, distributed entity spread across the enterprise. The force driving this change is virtualization, which is reducing the need to build out vast rooms with physical equipment and networking gear.
Kusnetzky pinpoints where the big changes are happening:
- Systems/processing: “Rather than purchasing systems that have features required by a single workload, organizations are moving to purchase inexpensive, easily extendable and replaceable systems,” he writes. “This is likely to result in fewer systems being needed and reductions in both power consumption and heat production.”
- Storage: Storage virtualization is achieving what years of work on things such as storage area networks could not: the ability to move data closest to where it is needed, often entirely through software, versus mechanical methods.
- Management: Today's data centers can be run from a single dashboard, overseeing everything from provisioning, configuration and usage to troubleshooting. Management tools also collect gobs of performance and usage data to enable efficient and trouble-free operation. And — here's the kicker — it can even be run from a smartphone.
- Power and cooling: With fewer and smaller devices, this means far less power consumption.
We'll probably have lots of big data centers for some time to come. But we're nearing a point in which they probably won't take up as much real estate.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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