Gartner has named four major trends that will result in data centre space requirements shrinking over the coming years.
In a nutshell they are smarter designs, energy efficiency pressures (or green IT), the realities of high-density environments and, of course, cloud computing.
"In the world of IT everything has a cascade effect and in data centres the traditional methods of design no longer work without understanding the outside forces that will have an impact on data centre costs, size and longevity," said Gartner.
"However, these very forces can actually work in your favour, providing the means to apply innovative designs, reduce capital costs and operating costs, increase long term scale and keep up with the business."
By 2018 the research firm believes that data centre space requirements will be only 40% of what they are today.
Gartner says data centre managers who are trying to determine how to optimally design and plan for the future data centre focus on the following four factors:
Traditional methods of designing data centres were created during the mainframe era and due to high costs, many mainframes were targeted for average performance in the mid-90 percent range during production time slots. As a result, there was minimal variation in the operating temperature or power consumption during long periods of time.
Today's data centres have many different demands on mechanical/electrical systems, depending on workload mix, function and age of equipment. New designs have taken this into account by adding different density zones for different workload types. This zone might employ directed cold air, or even in-rack cooling to support very high density workloads with minimal disruption, or impact, on the rest of the floor. Secondary zones would support steady-state applications that consume a consistent amount of power and produce manageable heat loads, while low density zones would be designed to support low power equipment (perhaps telecom and storage).
Most data centre managers paid little attention to the "greening of IT" unless they were pressured into it by senior management or the public. However, as awareness has increased, there has been a constant uptick in the attention paid to energy consumption in data centres and new data centre managers take a hard look at energy efficiency in both design and execution. The development and marketing of power utilisation efficiency (PUE) by the Green Grid continues to gain ground in the market and many new data centres are being developed with specific PUE targets in mind for the energy-efficiency advantages and the public relations impact.
With smarter designs and green pressures, data centre managers and designers have begun to focus on the compute density in their environments. Most data centres are woefully under utilised from a space perspective. The physical floor space may be nearing capacity, but in many cases the actual compute space within racks and servers is very poorly used, with average rack densities approaching just 60 percent worldwide.
Newer designs focus on this issue and are developed to allow optimal rack density, often approaching 85 to 90 percent on average, thus increasing the compute-per-square-metre ratio dramatically. The advent of private cloud environments and resource pooling will provide methods to enhance vertical scalability in the data centre, while at the same time improving the productivity-per-kilowatt ratio.
Data centre managers are beginning to consider the possibility of shifting nonessential workloads to a cloud provider, freeing up much needed floor space, power and cooling, which can then be focused on more critical production workloads and extending the useful life of the data centre. Shifting workloads is not new – many companies use collocation facilities as an overflow mechanism. However, with collocation the compute resource is still owned and managed by the application owner. With offloading services to the cloud, ownership and management of IT assets is shifted to the provider, essentially outsourcing the service to someone else.
As this practice increases in popularity, the landscape for what remains of the corporate data centre will change significantly. Only core business functions — those that differentiate a business from its competition, or are truly mission critical — will remain in the primary data centre. All other noncritical services will eventually migrate to external providers, having the long term effect of shrinking physical data centre requirements.