The rules of IT are being rewritten, as CIOs are asked to accommodate major new trends such as big data, mobility, BYOD, cloud computing, and software-defined everything. Due to the meteoric rise of these movements, CIOs have to support new applications and usage models while also running traditional workloads more efficiently and cost-effectively. The pressure facing IT teams to not only deliver superior performance on a daily basis but to also rapidly respond to changes in the business environment is now greater than ever before.
Let's look at the example of big data. Business units will increasingly demand capabilities that involve real-time analytics and greater intelligence in their IT operations. For example, the marketing department may want to deliver sales messages to mobile phones based on a customer's purchasing history, social media activity, location and other sensor data.
However, that same marketing department will also want to continue running its conventional CRM system – and dozens of other applications, for that matter - on the same infrastructure. Data centres must have the flexibility to meet all these varying needs and handle usage spikes by shifting resources, rather than by simply maintaining costly excess capacity that is often unused.
To address these challenges in 2014 and beyond, there needs to be greater simplicity – in the solution stack, the physical infrastructure, and the tools used to monitor and manage operations. There is also a need for greater infrastructure agility that offers flexibility and scalability beyond what exists today – an infrastructure an IT team can easily configure, provision in incremental blocks, and rapidly adapt to changes in the business environments. I've identified the following trends I believe will have a huge impact in the data centre.
Hyperscale computing paradigms will enter the mainstream
As web companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon build their own data centres and the technologies within, businesses have started paying more attention to the flexibility and efficiency these companies have developed. While taking into account the distinct differences between web companies and the traditional enterprise, vendors will start to leverage hyperscale design principles as a model to meet broader enterprise needs in a way that works for each business.
In hardware, this will mean greater density, more efficient use of power, more direct-attached storage (DAS), and a greater focus on modularity and scale-out capabilities. In software, there will be greater use of open source technologies, such as OpenStack, Hadoop and NoSQL, which are particularly well-suited to handling cloud computing and big data. All in all, the line that separates hyperscale from more mainstream enterprise computing will continue to blur.
Converged infrastructures will gain ground
More and more data centres will choose a converged infrastructure approach, where the operational silos - that now exist for servers, storage and networking functions - will give way to a unified architecture. Hardware systems will be integrated, sold, and managed as a single unit. On the strategic level, many organisations will make it their goal to extend the concept of converged infrastructure to encompass the entire data centre with all its heterogeneous components.
Server side flash will deliver a "right now" experience
The relationship between servers and storage will continue to evolve as customers across the globe demand instantaneous results. Flash cache technology brings the most frequently accessed data closer to the server, thereby minimising data travel from storage to the server. While point products for flash at the server do exist, organisations will gain more value from integrated server and SAN flash technology - accelerating application performance without sacrificing availability.
Microservers will solve important niche requirements
High density, energy-efficiency and a space-saving form factor are the key factors that make this category attractive for tasks that are not extremely compute-intensive. Microserver adoption will increase in 2014, especially with continued innovations in 64-bit ARM and x86-based technologies hitting the market this year. They are ideal for managed hosting companies that need to provide customers with physical, rather than virtual servers or for cold storage workloads, where minimising cost per GB is critical. In addition, there are some applications that simply cannot be virtualised, so microservers will play an increasing role in these cases.
Data centre management will become increasingly mobile
Managing the data centre will remain an utmost priority. The good news is that administrators, who not so long ago wore pagers to alert them of data centre problems, will find a growing number of options for monitoring, managing and automating infrastructure hardware from mobile devices. Actionable alerts, intuitive interfaces and navigation, and personalised dashboard views will give administrators the ability to manage the data centre anytime, anywhere.
The technology industry is never dull, but we are witnessing some especially exciting times. While the task of managing a data centre will never be simple, these trends will move IT management in the direction of greater simplicity, modularity, and efficiency.
Peter Barnes is the director of enterprise systems at Dell UK