Data centre trends for 2016 – an insider’s view

Tikiri Wanduragala

Thursday 10 December 2015

How are things shaping up for the data centre industry in the year ahead? Tikiri Wanduragala, Lenovo’s EMEA x86 Server Systems Snr. Consultant, gives Think Progress the inside line.

Hopefully by now you’ll have read my cast back at what happened in the world of data centres in 2015. In it, I mention in particular that there was a focus on management, security, and energy usage. I also point out that wrapping up what happened in any one year is always quite difficult in an industry where changes can often take a few years to come to fruition.

And, the truth is, this same principle still applies when it comes to looking forward: 2016 will, I feel, be another year of evolution rather than revolution. Some trends will take us by surprise, no doubt, while others will fail to live up to their original billing, but overall I think 2016 will see a continuation of the trends we have seen emerge in the past few years.

The biggest trend that I think is set dominate in the next 12 months or so is the idea of software-defined. That will mean decoupling ourselves from hardware.

Let me give you an example from the music industry. I’m a bit of an old-timer, so I started off buying vinyl, where the music is embedded in the record. In order to play the music, I needed the record. So a record is an occurrence of a piece of music; just as a CD is an occurrence of a piece of music. An entire industry was therefore built on those devices, not on the music. But the real value was in the music itself, of course, and as soon as that was unbundled – think back to when the portable MP3 player first came along – the industry was in for a shock.

I think the data centre industry is now fast reaching that same stage. Currently, we have storage devices where intelligence is in the device. But what happens if we separate that intelligence out? We are left with a very basic device. This is already happening in the networking industry. Currently, we have switches that are intelligent. But what happens if we have a basic switch and all the intelligent stuff is split out?

The magic question then becomes: Where do you run all this? Software needs hardware to run on, of course. It will run on the servers, moving us into a more server-centric world. Software moves to the servers because that’s where the applications run – and it’s all about getting close to the applications.

It’s important to note that what I mean by an application isn’t just Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, etc. Think of it this way: if a customer wants to access internet banking, that requires an application. That application needs lots of different features, including security, web access and connecting to a database holding information about how much money the customer has in his or her account. That’s what we mean by an application; a complete set of resources, services and so on that achieve an end result that the customer wants.

That’s another reason why all these silos need to be broken down, as I discuss in my 2015 Trends piece. There has to be coordination between different groups and skills within the business: the website, security, servers, databases and so on. It cannot be done in silos. And the companies that have done well over the past few years are the ones that have successfully broken those silos down.

As these trends develop, what becomes absolutely critical is management and control. Here we at Lenovo have invested a lot in a product called XClarity. It manages the infrastructure but, more importantly, it passes that management information up to the hypervisor. It’s very focused on the hardware.

That enables you to manage these things at a higher level. And the higher that level, the better.

Let me give you another example. In a car, your braking system can make decisions based on the speed of the wheels, but it is smarter to pass that information to the driver who has a more holistic view, and could make a better, or at least different, decision. That’s where we’ve focused XClarity: let’s manage the hardware and pass the information upstream to the decision engines.

So, in this software-defined world, knowing where everything is and how things are operating is critical. It’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.

There is a fundamental shift in the data centre industry. The data centre used to be a library, a repository of information where the business controlled the data that was created and managed its distribution. Now, in this new world of cloud computing and different data streams, there is a requirement to open the data centre up and make it incredibly flexible.

It’s a move away from the conventional data centre to more of an information centre, and that requires a whole new way of thinking. There has to be a focus on the most important thing: the application. That’s where the business logic is. The big internet-based companies understand that, and are already thinking about data centres in a different way to the traditional approach.

The rest of the industry is beginning to think that way, as well. It’s a change that will only accelerate during 2016.

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