Seemingly insatiable demand for new workloads and services at a time when most budgets are still constrained is the challenge of most data center executives. We look at the specific areas they identified going into 2012.
Data center executives are caught in an awkward phase of the slow economic recovery, as they try to support new initiatives from the business without a commensurate increase in their budgets. Many will need to improve the efficiency of their workloads and infrastructure to free up money to support these emerging initiatives.
- Data center budgets are not growing commensurate with demand.
- Expect an 800% growth in data over the next five years, with 80% of it being unstructured.
- Tablets will augment desktop and laptop computers, not replace them.
- Data centers can consume 100 times more energy than the offices they support.
- The cost of power is on par with the cost of the equipment.
- It is not the IT organization’s job to arrest the creation or proliferation of data. Rather, data center managers need to focus on storage utilization and management to contain growth and minimize floor space, while improving compliance and business continuity efforts.
- Focus short term on cooling, airflow and equipment placement to optimize data center space, while developing a long-term data center design strategy that maximizes flexibility, scalability and efficiency.
- Put in place security, data storage and usage guidelines for tablets and other emerging form factors in the short term, while deciding on your long-term objectives for support.
- Use a business impact analysis to determine when, where and why to adopt cloud computing.
New workloads that are key to enterprise growth, latent demand for existing workloads as the general economy recovers, increased regulatory demands and the explosion in data growth all pose challenges for data center executives at a time when the budget is not growing commensurate with demand. Storage growth continues unabated. It is not unusual to hear sustained growth rates of 40% or more per year. To fund this growth, most organizations will have to reallocate their budgets from other legacy investment buckets. At the same time, they must focus on storage optimization to manage demand, availability and efficiency.
“Nothing endures but change” is a quote attributed to Heraclitus, who lived over 2,500 years ago. However, his words seem applicable to the data center executive today. Pervasive mobility, a business environment demanding access to anything, anytime, anywhere and the rise of alternative delivery models, such as cloud computing, have placed new pressures on the infrastructure and operations (I&O) organization for support and speed. At the same time, a fitful economic environment has not loosened the budget purse strings sufficiently to fund all the new initiatives that many I&O organizations have identified.
This challenge of supporting today’s accelerated pace of change, and delivering the efficiency, agility and quality of services their business needs to succeed was top of mind for the more than 2,600 data center professionals gathered in Las Vegas on 5 December to 8 December 2011 for the annual Gartner U.S. Data Center Conference. It was a record turnout for this annual event, now in its 30th year. Our conference theme, “Heightened Risk, Unbounded Opportunities, Managing Complexity in the Data Center,” spoke to the difficult task our attendees face while addressing the new realities and merging business opportunities at a time when the economic outlook is still uncertain. The data center is being reshaped, as the transformation of IT into a service business has begun.
Our agenda reflected the complex, interrelated challenges confronting attendees. Attendance was particularly strong for the cloud computing and data center track sessions, followed by the storage, virtualization and IT operations track. The most popular analyst-user roundtables focused on these topics, and analysts in these spaces were in high demand for one-on-one meetings. We believe that the best-attended sessions and the results of the surveys conducted at the conference represent a reasonable benchmark for the kinds of issues that organizations will be dealing with in 2012.
We added a new track this year focused on the impact of mobility on I&O. The rapid proliferation of smart devices, such as tablets and smartphones, is driving dramatic changes in business and consumer applications and positively impacting bottom-line results. Yet, I&O plays a critical role in supporting these applications rooted in real-time access to corporate data anytime and anywhere and in any context, while still providing traditional support to the existing portfolio of applications and devices. As the next billion devices wanting access to corporate infrastructure are deployed, I&O executives have an opportunity to exhibit leadership and innovation — from contributing to establishing corporate standards, to anticipating the impact on capacity planning, to minimizing risk.
Electronic interactive polling is a significant feature of the conference, allowing attendees to get instantaneous feedback on what their peers are doing. The welcome address posed a couple of questions that set the tone for the conference. Attendees were first asked how their 2012 I&O budgets compared with their previous years’ budgets (see Figure 1).
Source: Gartner (January 2012)
Comparing year-over-year data, we find almost identical numbers reporting budgetary growth (42%) and reduced budgets (26% vs. 25%). The most recent results reflect a gradual, but still challenging, economic climate. While hardly robust, it is a marked improvement from the somber mood that most end-user organizations were in at the end of 2008 and entering 2009. Subsequent track sessions that focused on cost optimization strategies and best practices were universally well attended throughout the week.
Now, modest budget changes may not be enough to sustain current modes of IT operations, let alone support emerging business initiatives. Organizations need to continue to look closely at improving efficiencies and pruning legacy applications that are on the back side of the cost-benefit equation, to free up the budget and lay the groundwork to support emerging workloads/applications.
The second issue we raised in the opening session was for attendees to identify the most significant data center challenge they will face in 2012, compared with previous years (see Figure 2; note that the voting options changed from year to year).
Source: Gartner (January 2012)
What was interesting was the more balanced distribution across the options. For those who have the charter to manage the storage environment, managing storage growth is an extremely challenging issue.
Data growth continues unabated, leaving IT organizations struggling to deal with how to fund the necessary storage capacity, how to manage these devices if they can afford them, and how they can archive and back up this data. Managing and storing massive volumes of complex data to support real-time analytics is increasingly becoming a requirement for many organizations, driving the need for not just capacity, but also performance. New technologies, architectures and deployment models can enable significant changes in storage infrastructure and management best practices now and in coming years, and assist in addressing these issues. We believe that it is not the job of IT to arrest the creation or proliferation of data. Rather, IT should focus on storage utilization and management to contain growth and minimize floor space, while improving compliance and business continuity efforts.
Tactically prioritize a focus on deleting data that has outlived its usefulness, and exploit technologies that allow for the reduction of redundant data.
It is not surprising that data center space, power and/or cooling was identified as the second biggest challenge by our attendees. Data centers can consume 100 times more energy than the offices they support, which draws more budgetary attention in uncertain times. During the past five years, the power demands of equipment have grown significantly, imposing enormous pressures on the capacity of data centers that were built five or more years ago. Data center managers are grappling with cost, technology, environmental, people and location issues, and are constantly looking for ways to deliver a highly available, secure, flexible server infrastructure as the foundation for the business’s mission-critical applications. On top of this is the building pressure to create a green environment. Our keynote interview with Frank Frankovsky, director of hardware design and supply chain at Facebook, drew considerable interest because of some of the novel approaches that company was taking to satisfy its rather unique computing requirements.
We recommend that data center executives focus short term on cooling, airflow and equipment placement to optimize their data center space, while developing a long-term data center design strategy that maximizes flexibility, scalability and efficiency. We believe that the decline in priority shown in the survey results reflects the fact that organizations have been focusing on improved efficiency of their data centers. Changes are being implemented and results are being achieved.
Developing a private/public cloud strategy was the third most popular choice as the top priority, and mirrors the results we have seen in Gartner’s separate surveys regarding the top technology priorities of CIOs. With many organizations well on their way to virtualized infrastructures, many are now either actively moving toward, or being pressured to move toward, cloud-based environments. Whether it is public, private or some hybrid version of cloud, attendees’ questions focused on where do you go, how do you get there, and how fast should you move toward cloud computing.
We recommend that organizations develop a business impact analysis to determine when, where and why to adopt cloud computing. Ascertain where migrating or enhancing applications can deliver value, and look for the innovative applications that could benefit from unique cloud capabilities.
“Modernizing of our legacy applications” was fourth as the greatest challenge, and “Identifying and translating business requirements” was fifth and, in many ways, both relate to similar concerns. Meeting business priorities; aligning with shifts in the business; and bringing much-needed agility to legacy applications that might require dramatic shifts in architectures, processes and skill sets were common concerns among Data Center Conference attendees, in general.
We believe virtualization’s decline as a top challenge reflects the comfort level that attendees have in the context of x86 server virtualization, and most of this conference’s attendees are well down that path — primarily with VMware, but increasingly with other vendors as well. Our clients see the private cloud as an extension of their virtualization efforts; thus, interest in virtualization isn’t waning, but is evolving to private cloud computing. Now is a good time to evaluate your virtualization “health” — processes, management standards and automation readiness. For many organizations, it is an appropriate time to benchmark their current virtualization approach against competitors and alternate providers, and broaden their virtualization initiatives beyond just the servers and across the portfolio — desktop, storage, applications, etc.
This year promises to be one of further market disruption and rapid evolution. Vendor strategies will be challenged and new paradigms will continue to emerge. To stay ahead of the industry curve, plan to join your peers at the 2012 U.S. Data Center Conference on 3 December to 6 December in Las Vegas.