How will data centres change in 2015?

Clare Hopping

Wednesday 10 December 2014

With the relentless increase in the sheer volume of data, the demands on management and storage facilities have never been greater. This should surely mean that data centres will be changing in the coming years? But, according to researchers at IHS, it’s actually rather the opposite. So why is it we’re hearing about all this data, but the vendors aren’t sharing the wealth?

“You hear buzz words, like big data and analytics, which is just dozens of connected devices,” Jason dePreaux, director of data centres and critical infrastructure research at IHS Technology, starts to explain. “Put it all together and you get the picture: there’s a wave of data. And what’s going to be the result of that? Where is it going to go? Data centres are the heart of the new digital economy we’re all in.”

His analysis is that although you’d think data centres were driving change, they only appear to be doing so in terms of multi-data centres, such as leased spaces for companies that don’t want to run their own. Smaller data centre use is eroding and IHS believe there are various factors underlying this drop in demand for equipment from smaller set ups.

As technology evolves, the components of data centres are evolving too. The IT gear used in these hubs, including servers and software, can do more with less power. Following the recession, companies started updating their equipment to more efficient systems that are cheaper and more eco-friendly to run.

Software is making data more efficient

On the software side, virtualisation software helps optimise applications run on that hardware so it’s not just sitting there taking power it doesn’t need.

Ian Murphy, principal analyst for Creative Intellect Consulting UK’s software development, delivery and lifecycle management department, suggests that another evolution in software is due as vendors address the need for customers to move their operation to the cloud.

“Rewriting to be part of a cloud platform, and not a large on-premise solution, will make software more adaptable.” he explains. “At present, we have companies taking their on-premise licence to the cloud. This means that they’re getting no benefit from using the cloud and, should they suddenly want to instantiate multiple copies for short periods of time, they often face the hefty penalty of a month’s charging, rather than per minute or per hour charging.”

Is the economy to blame?

Although there is still some degree of economic weakness, and therefore restraint on capital expenditure, this is clearly not as significant as it was during the recession. According to dePreaux, it’s rather that IT is no longer moving in the same direction as it was in 2008-2009.

“Almost anyone you talk to now has undergone – or is undergoing – consolidation, and is merging existing data centres,” says dePreaux. “Less people have less individual things to manage, and outsourcing takes it to one more level, with companies renting the function from other companies whose core competency is building data centres efficiently.”

Murphy adds that, because the cloud offers flexibility, this even takes away the need for hardware outsourcing: “The reality is that we are going to see more adoption of cloud services as they are seen as being more stable and reliable. Companies are beginning to understand the process of moving to the cloud and that the security risk is no worse and, in many cases, much better than that of trying to run their own in-house IT systems.”

A move to hyper-scale data centres

There will be a big shift in data centre design in the future. Hyper-scale data centre facilities, built with one company’s mission in mind, are more the trend, following in the footsteps of Google, Facebook and Amazon – whose main business is data, of course.

“These companies are pushing the envelope as to what is effective data centre design. A lot of this is to save money on operation and power – in the name of efficiency and feeling the pressure to be green,” dePreaux says.

For example, they’re cutting the use of air conditioning to cool servers, running them warm instead, and introducing fresh air designs. A lot of data centre operators are now looking to reduce cooling costs by introducing free cooling, compressor-based cooling and turning down the thermostat.

What does this mean for vendors?

The result of these different challenges is competitive pressure on suppliers and the driving down of revenues. As a result, vendors are now moving into the service space in order to suck up revenues they’ve lost in the hardware space. Emerson, Scheider and Eaton Electric have all introduced after sales support contracts because it’s the most lucrative part of the business.

“This shift in attitude scares the hell out of the people who used to provide premium, customised data centres,” dePreaux concludes.

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