The Future of the Data Center


Yankee Group provides insight into how the Data Center will continue to evolve to help maximize performance and increase power efficiencies

January 28th, 2008

"The virtualized data centers of the future will be built on pools of resources that will be interconnected by the network. In essence, the network will become the backplane of the virtual data center."

— Zeus Kerravala, SVP of Enterprise Research at Yankee Group

To better understand the role of the Data Center today and how it will evolve in the next few years, News@Cisco speaks to Zeus Kerravala, SVP of Enterprise Research at Yankee Group to get some insight and answers.

What are the top data center pain points you hear from enterprise IT administrators and executives?

Zeus Kerravala: There are several pain points that plague data center managers today. First the current utilization of data center resources is very low. Yankee Group research shows that storage utilization is only at 25%, server utilization is at 30% and network utilization is also only at about 30%. Because applications tend to be deployed in silos, when a specific resource is at 100% capacity, the enterprise must buy more for that one particular application rather then being able to use the resource that is under utilized. Another big challenge is gaining a better handle on power and cooling. In 2000, the average number of KW per rack was 2.5, in 2006 it was about 10 KW per rack and, at the current rate of growth will be over 30 KW per rack in 2010. This has created a jump in the amount of money being allocated to power and cooling. In 2000, power and cooling was approximately 20% of new server spend, today it's slightly over 50% and, if nothing changes will be over 80% by 2010. Clearly the status quo is not sufficient and things need to change to meet the challenges of the future.

What types of innovations do you look for in the future to help data center managers address their most pressing issues?

Zeus Kerravala: There will be innovations in many areas. We've already seen the impact that virtualization can have on server efficiency. In a well managed, virtual server environment utilization has jumped from 30% to well over 90%. Virtualization is a trend that is starting to impact storage and soon, will make its way into the network. Virtualization today has been used primarily to make one server look like many. Eventually virtualization will play a different role and completely disaggregate the server. Instead of having a physical box with storage, CPU, memory, etc. built into it, the virtualization will allow for the server to be made up of virtual components.

We also expect to see improvements in power efficiency from having data center services be virtual services that are served out of the network. So, instead of deploying a new piece of hardware every time a new resource is required, the data center manager will be able to simply turn the service on. With respect to cooling, expect to see new methods of cooling data center equipment including liquid cooled servers to cool things such as blade server racks.

What are some of the key areas where the network can add value to next generation data centers?

Zeus Kerravala: The network plays a very important role in the virtualized data center. First, it is pervasive and touches all of the different resources in a data center. It's the resource that allow applications to connect to the various pools of computing resources. Because of this, more will be expected out of the network. Maintenance windows will shrink or be non existent so the network needs to be continuously available and be able to dynamically provision resources when and where they are needed. The move to a service oriented architecture (SOA) will be enabled by the network as the network is the optimal place for SOA resources to be delivered from. Lastly, the network will be the policy enforcement engine that will ensure that data center resources are being used as efficiently as possible.

The massive increase in data and the proliferation of Web 2.0 applications and technologies has had a big impact on how companies manage their data and their data centers. What are some of the strategies that are proving most successful?

Zeus Kerravala: The massive proliferation of data has made companies take a serious look at how data centers are managed. As stated previously, the utilization of data center resource is very poor and data center managers simply cannot continue to add where needed and ignore the resources that are under utilized. This has caused a rise in the usage of virtualization technologies, storage systems and blade servers. Of course, these technologies are only as good as the management tools that allow the data center administrators to manage these resources as efficiently as possible. Expect to see more innovation from the management tools as data center technologies continue to evolve.

What role do you see the network playing as data centers evolve?

Zeus Kerravala: As the data center continues to evolved, the network will as well. The virtualized data centers of the future will be built on pools of resources that will be interconnected by the network. In essence, the network will become the backplane of the virtual data center and play many roles. The network will be application fluent and be the service orchestration engine that will govern what resources go to which applications. The network is where many SOA services will reside and the network will automatically provision resources when and where they are needed.

What do you think the data center will look like in 5-10 years?

Zeus Kerravala: In 5-10 years the data center will looks drastically different. Today's data center is highly siloed with computing resources being dedicated to specific applications. In the data center of the future, all of the data center resource will have transformed from physical infrastructure to virtual infrastructure. Memory, storage, processor, database on other computing resources will be virtual resources that can be called "on demand" by whatever application requires it. These virtual resources will be comprised of pooled physical resources that can be across the data center, across the city or across the globe but will look like a single resource to all applications. This will drive data center resource utilization up from the low 20%, where it is today, to over 90%. In 5-10 years the data center will also be maximized for power and cooling efficiency as Green IT becomes a corporate mandate for all organizations.

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