Where Is IT Going and What Impact Will That Have On Data Centers?

At the recent DatacenterDynamics conference in San Francisco, the last session was a panel discussion on where IT is headed and the effects of that on data centers. Because my chair duty was over by then, it was the only session I could attend other than my own track.

Because a lot is going on with IT, this panel was very interesting. As more and more people and devices and equipment (without human intervention) get online, the importance of data centers increases even more.

First, here is a list of panel participants:

Moderator

Bruce Myatt

Panelists

From left: Peter Gross, Ron Hughes, Zahl Limbuwala, and Ben Radhakrishnan

The following is a summary of the discussion, with my comments (indicated by ZK). Bruce started by saying how, since the 2007 EPA report on data center energy consumption, we came to increase data center energy efficiency by means of several technologies and methods. Those include air economizer (free cooling), cold and hot aisle separation, cold or hot aisle containment, and measuring, which led to the wide deployment of the PUE metric and more energy efficient IT equipment. Other than more energy efficient IT equipment, these are primary from the data center operator’s view. Then, Bruce posed two questions.

Question 1: Types of changes in IT operations in the next 5 to 10 years

The first question was the type of changes taking place now and what will happen in 5 to 10 years that will have a big impact on IT operations.

A number of such changes were discussed, such as:

  1. Emergence of mobile devices (specifically tablets, whose shipment will reach 400 million in 2016)
  2. Cloud computing/virtualization
  3. More security needs
  4. Much bigger scaling changes for each server refresh
  5. Emergence of ultra–energy efficient HPC gear for supercomputers that encourages cloud computing operations
  6. Change of emphasis from facilities to IT
  7. The CIO’s role will change to that of a broker of services who decides where each application resides, either in-house or hosted, from that of a provider of infrastructure services.

(ZK: Most points raised were not accompanied by a detailed explanation, and I would like to express my own opinion about their impacts on data centers. The second question below was supposed to answer that. However, there was no clear one-to-one correspondence between the questions in question 1 and the answers given in the discussion of the second question. That does not mean the discussion was not useful, though. For reference purposes, I’ll refer to each question as 1-x, with x being the number associated with it.

Actually, 1-1 through 1-5 are very much related. Although virtualization is not cloud computing, it constitutes an important component of it. In short, virtualization with factors like policy and automation would create a cloud. As we have more mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, it becomes necessary to take care of them at a data center. Because the scaling factor would be several orders of magnitude bigger, because of more new IT equipment processing power and the sheer number of client devices, it will become necessary to have an infrastructure that can handle such a scale. That is cloud computing. As computing is concentrated in clouds, more security needs will be emphasized. Security is not limited to perimeter security of a data center. Security can be broken within the data center and via networking as well. Hacking and malware will become more sophisticated, and when security is bleached, its consequence would be several orders of magnitude greater than when everything was processed manually on paper.

As to 1-6, I also felt that more emphasis was placed on the facilities side in data center conferences before. But conferences, media, and blogging are now beginning to pay more attention to IT for improved data center operations and energy efficiency. This is very important because, after all, facilities exist to support the reliable and stable operations of ICT equipment. In turn, ICT equipment is run to support the business goals of an enterprise. It is easier to see concrete numbers like kilowatt hours consumed and/or temperature and humidity than to see what applications are doing for services.

As for 1-7, cloud computing with automation will relieve a CIO and his staff from repetitious and routine tasks, and they will become knowledge workers. See my previous blogs on this subject here and here.

As cloud computing moves into the mainstream of computing, some operators will abandon their own data centers and move their computing to cloud providers. Although data centers will not disappear, the number of data centers will decrease. At the same time, cloud providers (cloud data center operators) will expand their current data centers at their current and new locations. Each cloud data center in the future may be bigger than current ones, requiring more power and cooling. Or future data centers may require less space and power (thus, less cooling energy) because of new technologies like supercomputers with an enormous amount of processing power and very high energy efficiency.

Question 2: How those changes with IT will affect the design and operation of data centers

The second question was to solicit opinions on what those changes would bring to data centers.

(ZK: As I said, there was very little one-to-one correspondence between the first question and the second question. That is why I injected my own opinion above.) These were some of the points raised during discussion of the second question:

  1. A method of assessing data centers from environmental, economic, and specifically benefit points of view will be developed.
  2. One proprietary system providing IT functions (hardware, software, server, storage, and network in a bundle) will be used more.
  3. Self-management, including self-healing, in the IT segment will emerge for ICT equipment.
  4. Cloud computing will become more prevalent than data centers.

(ZK: I refer to each question as before.)

As for 2-1, a fair and thorough assessment method of data centers will be developed. A data center should be evaluated from environmental, economic, and societal benefit points of view. Currently, the big emphasis is on economics.

(ZK: Often data centers receive beatings from environmentalists because of large space, power, and water consumption. But there should be a fair and comprehensive assessment because a large data center may be more energy efficient than small data centers and provide essential societal benefits.)

(ZK: Regarding 2-2, an embedded solution is generally more efficient than an open solution. The ICT segment has made significant progress by providing open solutions. But when it becomes really necessary to focus on energy efficiency, it may make sense to develop a system that combines hardware, software, server, storage, and networking together, such as Cisco’s unified computing. Within the system, some proprietary protocol may be used, but if IP is used to interact with the system from outside, there should not be a big problem.)

As to 2-3, servers and other ICT equipment will become more self-managing and self-healing. That will cut down human intervention in case of minor to medium-size problems.

(ZK: This may be implemented with redundancy and by moving virtual machines from a faulty server to another to continue processing. Cloud computing does some of this already, but more progress will be expected.)

Regarding 2-4, I already discussed this above. But this opinion was expressed by Ron Hughes of the State of California. His actual comment was that state and local governments will no longer build new data centers but use clouds. (ZK: The US government has indicated this as well, and it also applies to the private sector.)

(ZK: As an IT guy, I welcome the shift in focus from facilities to IT. However, we need to move farther to incorporate data, such as server health and application status, from the higher layers of ICT equipment. They are currently monitored by system management tools. Information like where each application runs and what status each application is in would have an impact on data center operations. More needs to be done in this area.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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