Factors governing data centre development toward 2020

Data centres: what are the trends and market forces that will shape their development over the coming five-to-ten years? E&T solicits predictive views from 12 data centre sector experts.

Anyone appraising the data centre business during the recession at the beginning of this decade would have been far from assured about its long-term prospects. Dot-com boom and bust had resulted in industry-wide disaffection toward data centres, and many CIOs were left convinced that the best place for enterprise applications and data was on enterprise's own servers and storage devices.

As we approach the tail end of the 2000s, the data centre story has undergone an extensive rewrite, with existing facilities running at high percentages of utilisation, and new data centres opening across Europe and beyond.

Data centre operators, and the vendors who supply the racks, cabling, servers, air conditioning and ventilation units, are doing nicely, and the market make-up is such that there is still room for product differentiation, with (to date) minimal consolidation. Ironically, the most recent economic straitening has been beneficial for the data centre market, as other business sectors find ways to trade more cost-efficiently online, and IT departments migrate toward 'Cloud'-based models that are hosted largely on third-party servers.

These favourable market conditions are of themselves fuelling more changes to the data centre sector; and if its captains are smart they will be now be taking a long view as to how to sustain the profitability by identifying the factors - seen and unseen - that will inform and shape their success; and it is the success that has drawn many of the key issues regarding how the data centre market will progress over the coming years.

Code of conduct for data centres

As TeleCity Group's Rob Coupland noted in an E&T Viewpoint article (Vol 4 #14), the question of regulation is one that will encroach in the market increasingly during the years to come. Coupland argues that data centre operators must sign up to the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres to avoid having more onerous regulation imposed upon them.

Nearly a year after the launch of the Code, "it is surprising to see that so many organisations are still choosing not to apply it," Coupland observes. "Some organisations would seemingly prefer to be burdened with resource-intensive regulation… By ignoring the Code these organisations are potentially causing a risk to the long-standing autonomy of industry."

The integral importance of data centres to economic wellbeing - plus the fact that, as significant consumers of energy and resources, data centres are likely to rub up against environmental watchdogs - means national authorities are taking more notice of them. Security is another growing concern. That data centres will be targeted by criminals, activists and possible terrorists is something that should be factored into any predictions. 

Until recently, much attention was focused on the IT performance side of data centres; now energy management will become as prominent an issue as rack density, and air cooling. This is as much a procedural issue as a technological one, and reflects a significant change in how data centres are to be managed.

IT practitioners and facilities managers have been tussling over ownership of operating and electricity costs for some time. Recent research from Loughborough University and IT optimisation firm on365 claimed that data centre managers lack "any real understanding of their IT infrastructure's energy costs", and the demands they are placing on it.

The survey questioned UK-based data centre professionals, IT staff, and finance staff, between June and August 2009. It found that responsibility for data centre operating and electricity costs was divided between job functions, with the electricity budget mainly held by facilities managers (53 per cent), with only 23 per cent of IT personnel polled controlling it, and 23 per cent of finance professionals having equal responsibility for this area.

Asked who actually saw their data centre's electricity bills, only 44 per cent of those polled said they did. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many IT managers, working in data centres and in enterprise IT departments, feel that they are reproved for something that they have little or no control over until they can access the usage details.

Because they encompass so many areas of technology, as well as the built environment, data centres present some of the most demanding challenges for their masters. With this in mind, E&T invited 12 individuals from the data centre industry to state what they felt the sector will look like in five-to-ten years' time.

Jason Friedler

Head of hosting services, Telstra International

"Data centre innovations will continue to centre on anticipating future customer requirements. Although many customers may not be willing to pay a premium for it now, the provision of energy-efficient services will become ever more important.

"The impending Carbon Reduction Commitment emissions-trading scheme, and further potential legislation down the line, means this will become an increasing customer priority in the coming years. Customers will be looking for increased visibility on the performance of their hosted services. There will be more technology installed to accurately measure and report on variables such as temperature, humidity, and power consumption on individual racks.

"As this trend continues, customers are likely to demand metered power billing - meaning that they pay just for the power they have used."

Chris Gabriel

Director of marketing and solutions, Logicalis

"The growth of Cloud Computing, availability of enterprise-grade connectivity, and forthcoming Carbon Reduction Commitment, will have a significant impact on the future of data centre design. Advances in network speed and quality, and an increasing trend for Cloud-based services, will mean data centres can be located anywhere; however, as organisations seek to reduce their carbon footprint, data centres that are powered by renewable energy sources will be a compelling choice for decision makers.

"Areas such as North Wales and even Iceland are already emerging as attractive locations. The remote nature of these data centres, though, will require due diligence on security, as well as increased automation of operational processes, such as maintenance."

Geoffrey Noer

Senior director of product marketing, SGI

"Many businesses have turned to 'containerised' or 'modular' data centres to take advantage of the unique benefits of a reduced footprint, easy deployment scenarios and build-to-order configurability.

"These standalone structures can create additional capacity at existing sites, or can be deployed as an alternative to traditional bricks-and-mortar constructions. Modular data centres require only a power connection, a water supply for cooling, and a network connection for operation. By eliminating the need to build additional data centre space, companies can reduce their carbon footprint. 

"A further environmental benefit is the ability to position these data centres to take advantage of alternative energy sources including solar, wind or hydro electric power."

Paul Sudlow

Product marketing senior consultant, Dell

"According to IDC, the so-called 'Digital Universe', which includes digital information created and transmitted over the Internet, phone networks, and airwaves, is expected to double in size every 18 months.

"A good starting point for companies looking to better manage data is to build tiered storage architectures. By implementing a tiered-storage infrastructure where less critical data can be moved to the appropriate, cost-effective tier, companies can drive down costs related to management, energy, and sheer disk storage space.

"This is the first step in not only defining and implementing a defensive storage strategy, but ultimately one that can deliver competitive advantage through operational agility."

Eric Schwartz

President, Equinix Europe

"The capital intensity of data centres is clearly growing, as is the lead-time to secure capacity. Meanwhile, IT organisations are losing internal expertise, via attrition or cutbacks, to build and operate data centre infrastructure - subsequently fuelling demand for outsourced solutions and models.

"On top of this customers are increasingly basing data centre decisions on the need to optimise application performance. This requires access to a broad range of network connectivity options to support applications including electronic trading, e-commerce, Cloud Computing, and so on. Data centre expertise is key to this, as customers look to improve performance and drive business value."

Andrew Saunders

Head of product management, Zen Internet

"There is a conflict developing between the power density requirements (and associated extra cooling) for hosting and co-location in data centres versus the pressure to reduce environmental impact. Connectivity will be a key factor. Basic 'Internet access' will not be sufficient; instead there will be an increasing requirement for private (or virtual private network) communication links between equipment spread across multiple data centres and other locations.

"Data storage is also becoming a general resource, so within data centres there will be an expectation that any server will be able to access storage - for example, via a Storage Area Network - in the same way that network connectivity is provided at the moment. Pressure to reduce costs may force companies to consolidate much of their infrastructure into fewer data centres. These will, therefore, become mission critical. Resilience (in terms of power supply, cooling, network connections, etc) will therefore be even more vital. Physical security and geographical diversity may become more significant: in the UK, there is a huge reliance on data centres in the London Docklands area. The scenario of, for example, flooding or a terrorist attack should be a concern for anyone who depends upon such data centre space.

"Power density requirements may influence the location of the data centre to be closer to sources of renewable energy, such as hydroelectric, wind or wave. This may lead to data centres being more remote from the companies and customers they serve, and will require data centre operators to provide more on-site value added services such as 'remote hands' and hardware maintenance options."

Peter Crook

Executive vice president, Upsite Technologies

"Not all data centres are the same, and the differences among them will be become even more pronounced in the next five years. At least four data centre facility types already exist: end-user owned, Internet/Web hosting, scientific/modelling, and on-demand or Cloud Computing. Each has different business requirements for reliability, concurrent maintainability, fault tolerance, redundancy, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, disaster recovery, latency, communications bandwidth/redundancy/diversity, energy efficiency, tightness of environmental controls, and so on.

"Run to failure will be the right choice for some businesses while others will appropriately be very risk averse due to the financial, regulatory, and public relations consequences of failure. Large enterprises will commonly have applications running in all four types mentioned based on cost, reliability, or performance requirements. As a result, there will be an increasing divergence in data centre missions with no single 'right' choice."

David Galton-Fenzi

Group sales director, Zycko

"The long-term future of the data centre will be dictated by the already well-worn carbon footprint. The introduction of the Carbon Reduction Commitment in April 2010 will see larger organisations that spent over £500,000 on electricity in 2008 looking to drastically cut emissions, in order to comply with government protocol and avoid costly carbon tax. This will place the emphasis on increased efficiencies and Greener methodologies, as IT managers look to new recycling technologies designed to manage heat dissipation, increased hardware densities and super fast networking (120Gbps+), to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of their data centres. Developing the 'greenest' data centre will remain top of the agenda for the foreseeable future."

Andrew Barnes

Vice president corporate development, Neverfail

"As businesses increasingly transact on a 24/7 timeframe with critical applications constantly in use, data centres are required to be constantly available. Downtime from failure or planned maintenance must therefore not deny users access to information. With virtualisation and cloud services increasingly penetrating data centre thinking, finding the optimum combination of continuous application availability, return on investment and total cost of ownership to deliver 'continuous uptime' should be a priority. With data centres often running both physical, virtual, and Cloud-based systems, organisations should demand improved flexibility from high availability and disaster recovery solutions in order to meet and address the needs of multiple platforms, no matter where errors may occur. This should be an essential for any business looking to protect its data centre environment."

Alex Rabbetts

Managing director, Migration Solutions

"The data centre of the future will need to be leaner, more efficient and far higher capacity. Rising demand for storage seems insatiable. Data centres are going to have to evolve to accommodate storage demands that some predict (according to the UK Government's 'Digital Britain' report), will rise between 10 and 100 times between now and 2014. Couple this with the environmental challenges, and new legislation such as the Carbon Reduction Commitment, the industry faces some very tough - but exciting - times. The 'Cloud' will also have its impact, although how much, and to what extent, is still to be seen."

Rob Coupland

COO, TelecityGroup

"Data centre energy consumption will necessarily continue to rise up the social and political agenda, increasing the scrutiny on the data centre industry's energy efficiency and green credentials. Data centres will have to deliver improved efficiency. Data centre operators who can show that they take this challenge seriously - for instance, by adoption of the EU Code of Conduct for data centre best practice - will be able to demonstrate a crucial differentiator to the market."

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