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What Are Data Centers and Why Do They Matter? (Part 2 of 3)

18 Aug 2016 by Howard M Cohen

In the first article in the series, we answered the big question: What are data centers? Picking up where we left off is the world’s biggest shared data center, the cloud. Every cloud service is produced at a purpose-built, special-function data center. Some produce data backup services, others provide productivity tools and then there are general purpose infrastructure support providers. But they are all IT data centers. And tomorrow’s IT advisor can help customers determine which data centers, or which clouds, they should use to fulfill their IT requirements.

Selecting the intelligently integrated data center

“At the same time, there will be an increase in investment around the Nexus of Forces (cloud, social, mobile and information) as many businesses focus on growth and new opportunities,” according to Gartner’s report, “How to Select the Correct Data Center Option for the Digital World,” published October 8, 2015.

These changes are leading to the development of the digital economy and forcing heads of the largest data centers to focus on agility, innovation and gaining a competitive advantage. However, these data hubs must also use the latest technologies and integrate through intelligent software layers. 

Gartner makes recommendations for a modern data center strategy in its report, including three different data center personality models to classify your workloads. The first personality we wrote about is called “Agility & Innovation.” The next personality is the “Intelligent and Integrated” data center.

Greater integration through disintegration

It may seem like the first step toward tighter integration may be disintegration. As we disconnect more parts of the data center and the flow of information, our ability to integrate everything becomes greater, and we can apply far more intelligence to it.

Follow the changing paradigms: When I say “server” you say…? If you’re like most people, you probably say, “The person who brings out the food in a restaurant.”

If you’re an IT person, you probably describe a big CPU with plenty of RAM, a cluster of very fast processors and lots of storage. And if you are seeking to identify your best selection of data center, you’ll probably just say: “Workload.”

Many IT paradigms constantly shift. It was more than 20 years ago that then-chairman of Novell Robert Frankenberg said, “Work is no longer a destination, it’s an activity.” Indeed, we can get to work anywhere without having to go to work.

Computers have become communication devices, with people emailing, messaging, and even calling and videoconferencing from their desktops or laptop computers. Conversely, communication devices have become computers, with people doing plenty of computing work on their mobile phones. Needless to say, data center companies need to adapt.

The new definition of data center

When I say “data center hosting,” you might imagine a large space either within a large building or in its own stand-alone building, with rows and rows of racks and racks of computers, storage, communications, power management, fire control, routers, switches and raised floors.

But from the perspective of an information architect, “data center” no longer describes such a facility as much as it does a functionality.

Think of this in the context of cloud computing. What is a cloud? It’s a data center, usually a purpose-built data center that provides a specific functionality. We may obtain data backup service from one of these cloud data centers. Anti-malware, anti-spam and anti-virus services may come from another. The suite of productivity software we use may come from yet another.

The paradigm of integration itself has shifted, from combining hardware and software from various manufacturers, to combining services and functionalities from various cloud data centers.

Integrating data centers

Indeed, the great differentiator for service providers for the next decade will come, at least in part, from the intelligence they bring to integrating services and functionalities from various cloud data centers into a superior solution. The next generation of service providers will succeed by making the data centers completely transparent to their customers. IT will cease being something a company has and fully become a service company’s use.

The metrics by which service providers are evaluated will be familiar. Cost will be foremost as competition keeps increasing. These service providers will achieve cost reduction through deeper and deeper automation.

Responsiveness will also be key. As the need for greater business agility continues to increase, Lines-of-Business (LoB) will expect their needs to be met faster, with greater transparency.

The intelligent data center

The intelligent data center will position “servers” as workloads and everything else as enablers.

Data center automation will seek to move these workloads between hardware devices aggressively to achieve optimal efficiency. When possible, hardware devices will be emptied of workloads, then powered off to reduce costs. Virtual Machine (VM) server workloads will be automatically shifted to where they can be served best and fastest.

This will provide the best possible responsiveness for users. It will also create tremendous new agility for users, as support for new applications and workloads are provisioned immediately.

In its report, Gartner suggests that customers will seek intelligent and integrated data centers to support LoB workloads requiring highly granular integration in a fortified data center environment. This suggests that co-location of their own infrastructure will be preferable to public cloud services like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. The degree of control available is the primary issue.

Download the Gartner report, “How to Select the Correct Data Center Option for the Digital World,” to learn more about prescribing the best, most effective data center strategy for your customers.