Data centers, under strain, expand at furious pace

Digital economy creates an unrelenting need for power, cooling, space

About a third to half of all data centers will be physically expanding or leasing new space in the next two years, according to recent surveys.

These surveys are painting a picture of the strains the facilities that cradle the digital economy are facing, as well as the pressure data center and IT managers are under to keep up with demand.

The Uptime Institute recently surveyed 525 data center operators and owners, 71% of whom were in North America. Thirty-six percent of the respondents said they will run out of power, cooling and space by the end of 2012.

To meet the need, 40% of the respondents said they plan to build a new a new data center, and 29% said they would lease additional space in a collocation center. Another 20% said they would move IT workloads to cloud providers.

Afcom, an association of data center managers, recently surveyed 360 IT managers and other IT executives and found that 29% are expanding or building a new data center. Another 21% said they are planning to expand their existing data center or build a new one in the next two years.

Most organizations have taken advantage of the biggest "pressure reliever" of the past decade -- virtualization, said Tad Davies, executive vice president of Bick Group, which designs and builds data centers. "There's not much more they can get there, so it's back to expansion," he said.

Matt Stansberry, director of content and publications at Uptime, who also developed the organization's survey, said that with the economic downturn, "a lot of companies stretched server refresh cycles, but with budgets on the rise, that means a lot of people will be running out of capacity."

Digital Realty Trust, a data center provider, recently surveyed 300 IT decision-makers in North America with annual revenues of at least $1 billion or at least 5,000 employees. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they will definitely or probably expand their data centers this year.

That's a high percentage, but Digital Realty attributes it to the size of the firms. Expansion includes everything from a physical expansion and leasing of collocation space to cloud computing services. It represents a 4% increase over the previous year's survey results.

More power to them

One way of measuring the impact of data center expansion is power consumption.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection released a report that estimated that national energy consumption by servers and data centers would rise from 7 gigawatts (GW) to 12 GW by this year, which would have required an additional 10 power plants. Power consumption had doubled from 2000 to 2007.

The EPA has not updated its 2007 estimate, but it is believed that the recession and improvements in energy efficiency have reduced the original forecast for 2011.

However, nationally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that demand for new generating capacity for all electrical energy uses in both businesses and homes will rise by 223 GW for through 2035. That estimate includes the retirement of about 39 GW of existing capacity.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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