Top data center challenges include social networks, rising energy costs

Gartner Data Center Conference kicked off in Las Vegas Tuesday morning

Enterprise data needs will grow a staggering 650% over the next five years, and that's just one of numerous challenges IT leaders have to start preparing for today, analysts said as the annual Gartner Data Center Conference kicked off in Las Vegas Tuesday morning.

Rising use of social networks, rising energy costs and a need to understand new technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing are among the top issues IT leaders face in the evolving data center, Gartner analyst David Cappuccio said in an opening keynote address.

The 650% enterprise data growth over the next five years poses a major challenge, in part because 80% of the new data will be unstructured, Cappuccio said. IT executives have to make sure data can be audited and meet regulatory and compliance objectives, while attempting to ensure that growing storage needs don't break the bank. Technologies such as thin provisioning, deduplication and automated storage tiering can help reduce costs.

"If you're not doing thin provisioning in storage today, you need to start," Cappuccio said. "It's an easy, logical way to reduce storage consumption."

Deduplication is another technology IT officials have to examine. Many IT shops are seeing storage reductions of 50% to 60% with dedupe, which eliminates duplicate copies of stored objects and files, he said. Another money-saving technology is automated tiering, which makes sure data is stored on appropriately priced boxes. As much as 80% of data on high-speed drives is almost never used and should be moved to less expensive storage tiers, he said.

Cappuccio listed 10 key issues for IT managers to examine: virtualization; the data deluge; energy and green IT; complex resource tracking; consumerization of IT and social software; unified communications; mobile and wireless; system density; mashups and portals; and cloud computing.

Social networks are coming into the enterprise whether CIOs want them to or not, Cappuccio said. Twitter use grew an amazing 1,382% in 2008 and the majority of new users were between the ages of 39 and 51, he said.

"It is a growing phenomenon which we can't shut down," he said. Employees and customers are using wikis, blogs, Facebook and Twitter and "it's affecting you now whether you know it or not." Businesses need to examine Web-based social software platforms because they are transforming interactions with both customers and employees, he said.

IT managers are also being forced to look more at energy use, as many organizations are moving the energy bill from the facilities department to the IT department. "What's happening now is CFOs are asking embarrassing questions [about power use]," Cappuccio said.

The energy cost of two racks of servers, at full density, can exceed $105,000 a year, he said. And servers are only growing denser, with new blades that incorporate servers, storage, switches, memory and I/O capabilities. At today's prices, the money spent on supplying energy to an x86 server will exceed the cost of that server within three years, he said.

IT managers are accustomed to being asked to "do more with less," but that need is taking on new levels of meaning as IT is forced to curtail energy use, Cappuccio said. The energy bill has not traditionally been a part of the IT budget but CIOs can expect it to be incorporated into their spending plans soon, he said.

Energy costs are the main reason businesses are pursuing server virtualization. Despite what hypervisor vendors might have you believe, virtualization typically doesn't reduce complexity or management costs but the energy savings from packing multiple virtual machines onto a single box are very real, Cappuccio said.

Gartner analysts noted that there is declining level of trust in the IT market on the heels of the recession, but the research firm expects global IT spending to rise a modest 2.3% in 2010. "There's no denying that it's been a tough year," Gartner analyst Joe Baylock said. Enterprises are extending the life of old equipment to save money, but this is also subjecting users to higher failure rates caused by aging hardware.

Future spending growth might be driven by cloud computing, but Gartner analysts are predicting that most cloud spending will initially focus on building private cloud networks rather than outsourcing services to external cloud providers.

"We think private cloud services are going to be 70% to 80% of the investments over the next few years," Cappuccio said.

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