Storage pros envision pools of capacity

The data center of the future will be made up of flexible commodities, speakers and users said at SNW

The data center of the future will be a set of commodities, speakers and attendees of Storage Networking World said at the conference on Tuesday.

Much of the attention at this week's conference in Orlando is focused on the flexible use of resources, and both enterprise IT managers and vendors came to the same conclusion despite having different viewpoints on other issues. As the growth of data and of computing power demands comes up against limits on space and power, being able to make more efficient use of what fits in a given space is a key objective.

Asked what the data center of the future will look like, several featured speakers on a panel at SNW all envisioned pools of resources in some form.

"To me, the data center of the future is an outsourced data center," said Martin Gomberg, senior vice president and CIO at A&E Television Network. "We don't need to be in the business of managing data centers. It should be data that's striped across the world. We don't need to know where it's located ... we just need to be able to get to it as we need."

For others, outsourcing won't work, but they have similar visions. Jeff Kubacki, CIO at risk consulting company Kroll, said his employer can't outsource its storage because it's responsible for storing sensitive data from its clients that is used as evidence in lawsuits. But an unexpected slowdown in litigation last year brought his vision to light.

"I had excess capacity in servers and storage ... and I hate having so much fixed cost. So I need variable cost, and I only want to pay for what I use," Kubacki said.

Those resources simply will have to be within the company's own infrastructure, he said. Recently Kroll met with a hardware vendor that was trying to sell its cloud solution. Kubacki said another Kroll executive summed up the company's feelings about the concept: He didn't want it.

"He said, you know, I don't care if you call it a private cloud, a public cloud, a hybrid cloud, a swimming pool, or a basketball court," Kubacki said.

A private cloud is exactly what Anthony Abbattista, vice president of technology solutions at Allstate Insurance, called his vision for the future data center. He would like to be able to move storage capacity around on a "plug-and-play" basis.

This rings true for Parag Patel, vice president of VMware's Global Strategic Alliances Organization. He said enterprises now think in terms of service levels instead of technology and are moving toward a hybrid infrastructure in which some of it is privately owned and managed and some is outsourced.

Virtualization will play a big role over the next five years or so at the Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, said Rob Carlisi, who works in the IT department there and attended the conference. Along with data deduplication, which eliminates duplicate bits of data in backups, virtualization will help the IT department deal with power and space constraints, he said.

Like Carlisi, the conference panelists saw their visions playing out over the next few years. But one attendee looked even farther into the future and saw a radically new kind of data center.

Virtualization centralizes data centers in terms of hardware but keeps the model of having an operating system in every virtual machine, said Ty Boyack, Unix network manager at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins. That model will scale up for a while but eventually break because it retains a lot of complexity, he believes.

Fifteen years from now, Boyack expects data centers to return to a mainframe-like model in which there is one operating system to run all applications. However, Boyack also sees hardware as a commodity in the future: That single-OS data center will be powered by hardware components that can be swapped out at will, he said.

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