Data Center Summit : Look out for that Paradigm Shift

This year's Data Center Summit was all about the obvious and the not so obvious.

The term "data center" is still strongly associated with hardware and what is tangible, very much in line with what the layman's encyclopedia, Wikipedia, says about DC.

A contrario, Gartner's definition of a data center (DC) is broad and encompasses software, services and hardware. The inclusion of the software and services segments might therefore explain why hardware was to a certain extent diluted in this year's event and might account for the absence of big names like IBM, EDS, Hitachi Data Services or Sun Microsystems.

That said, Data Center Summit 2006 was far from being mundane and chatting with the vendors proved to be a worthy exercise.

Looking forward to 2007 and beyond, Dell's acquisition of ACS, a UK-based IT services company, shows that services look set to play a bigger role in Dell's portfolio; something that is reminiscent of IBM's changes a decade ago under Louis Gestner's impulse. Will Dell step in the shoes of Big Blue rather than HP? Stay tuned!

Speaking of acquisition, CA announced that it purchased Cybermation just days before Gartner's summit, in a bid that might spark a spate of acquisitions across the industry. Cybermation is an IT Workload automation broker and according to CA's representatives, is a perfect fit for CA's grande strategy of being a 'service accelerator' as they put it.

On the hardware front came the brand new, jaw-dropping Intel Quad Core processor. Benchmarks ran in real time and showed that the new processor would probably raise even more performance bar. But there's more to it than just performance. A Quad Core processor actually consumes less power than a single core Xeon processor making it a very sought after component.

One palpable trend in the DC sector is turning what's hot into cold by consuming less energy. This has a knock off effect on cooling requirements, the amount of hardware you can cram together and incidentally on your energy bill.

Business is brisk as more and more enterprises learn about and convert to the benefits of consolidation and virtualization. One vendor confirmed that demand is outstripping supply in the particularly 'hot' sector of power management. Firms are expanding and find themselves needing more storage, more performance and more power to keep up running.

Like one business analyst put it, it is all coming down again. After the mainframe period and the desktop era, the booming DC sector marks the next logical epoch. Some industry insiders reckon that in a not-to-distant future, distributed computing will become en vogue again as personal computers take the upper hand as discrete connected devices and appliances grow in terms of storage capacity and performance.

All vendors I interviewed agreed that consolidation, virtualization and use-as-you-need computer resources are the way forward. This reduces Total Cost of Ownership, slashes maintenance fees, improves performance and reliability while making sure that resources are being used optimally.

Ironically, that means less hardware being sold, hence less profit. But then as one unnamed Dell manager told me, if they don't sell consolidation to their customers, someone else will do it.

Far being a mere exercise of white box flogging, this brings real savings and tangible enhancements and might explain why some big outsourcing projects are actually being now brought in-house.

That said, outsourcing is also gradually changing in nature as companies like Wipro and Accenture bring forth complete solutions which include software and services and increasingly hardware resources as well.

This brings us to the final analysis of the DC summit. Like hot segments like Security, DC is a perfect example of Coope-tition where a competitor can be a partner as well. Through mergers, acquisitions and opportunity exploration, companies like HP or IBM have grown so big that they are starting to compete with some of their own traditional partners.

The overall impression, apart from the fact that most vendors had a tired face after a long two-day marathon, is that Data Center will spill over its traditional definition of a Repository for Data (hence the name). Rather than being a mere Super NAS (network attached storage), DC redefines itself.

After all, a quarter of a century after the first Gartner Annual Data Center Conference, fundamental technologies like virtualisation will consolidate DC's importance as one of the fundamental building blocks of your Information's Life Cycle.