The Data Center of the Future


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Data centers already account for over half of corporate IT budgets, and META Group projects a 70% increase in data center budgets over the next decade. But where that money specifically goes has changed drastically in the last few years. While servers and storage together comprised 20% of 2002 expenditures, those figures will drop in both relative and absolute terms by 2012. Software spending, meanwhile, is expected to more than double over that same time period.

But all is not well with data centers. Utilization remains low, and costs cannot continue to rise without jeopardizing the rest of the IT budget. But not all the news is bad, as there are several emerging trends that will likely permit data centers to boost performance while keeping costs under control.

The Rise of Linux

While Unix is far from dead, Linux is quickly becoming the operating system of choice in data centers.

"In 2004, Linux adoption will explode in every data center," says Ted Schadler, an analyst for Forrester Research.

This is partly due to the low cost of the operating system itself, but that’s certainly not the only factor, especially considering operating systems actually don't account for that large a percentage of overall costs. In fact, most companies are willing to pay for Linux in order to get a supported, enterprise version. According to Gartner, the Linux market will exceed $9 billion in 2007.

But beyond the lower cost factor, Linux offers the data center a wide variety of application choices. It runs on the IBM z90 mainframe all the way down to cell phones. It runs on low-end web servers as well as on eight-way, mid-sized boxes. It runs on laptops and workstations, and is the operating system of choice for clusters, which now comprise over 40% of the world's top 500 supercomputers. No other operating system provides this same range of options in the enterprise. All of which means that by standardizing on Linux, an organization can save on the number of different skill sets needed in the data center.

Smaller Servers

Once upon a time, "big-iron" dominated the data center. While mainframes like IBM's zSeries and the HP Superdome are experiencing a bit of a renaissance, there is also the trend toward using the smallest servers possible. Currently, that means blade servers. Though they have only been on the market for a short while, sales of these micro-servers surpassed $100 million in 2003 and will account for $3.7 billion in 2006, according to IDC.

Blade servers offer companies low cost scalability, since it is easy to assign a batch of these servers to a particular application rather than having to buy a more expensive server which then remains underutilized. Since blade servers stuff a dozen or more servers into a single box, they drastically cut the infrastructure costs for racks, cabling, and cooling. Then there is the ease of support. When one goes down it is a simple act to swap out a server card and let the system automatically rebuild the system.

One other factor contributing to the growth of blade server usage is Linux. Since it is a lightweight operating system that doesn't consume a lot of disk space or processor overhead, it is ideal for use on these small servers.

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