Cloud, virtualization take toll on data centers

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Managing the transition

Even with all the movement to cloud or colocation, some enterprises still opt to continue to build new data centers, explains Dan Harrington, research director of enterprise data centers at 451 Research Group.

Recently, Harrington conducted research asking clients what they would do if they ran out of capacity tomorrow. The number one response, he says, was they would consolidate their IT infrastructure and use more virtualization to take advantage of the space they already have. The number two response was to use more cloud and hosted software as a service and platform as a service, he says. Number three was to use colocation, and lastly, about 20% of respondents said they would build a new data center.

Finance and healthcare-oriented companies are more likely to build their own data centers due to regulatory and compliance concerns, Harrington notes.

451 Research also asked clients about their workloads and found that around 8% of the time people are deploying workloads in the cloud. Asked about their expectations for deploying workloads in three years' time, respondents said they expect 21% of apps to reside in the cloud; 14% plan to use colocation; and 65% will reside at their own data center due to pre-existing investments, according to Harrington.

"The reality is most enterprises have a whole bunch of data centers spread out around the world ... so there are a lot of preexisting investments." Yet, he says the research firm finds that a lot of those investments are not being utilized as much as they could be.

Harrington says virtualization and multicore processors have made existing IT infrastructure so much more efficient that "you're able to do so much more with these servers and storage than in the past," and there isn't a big need for extra capacity. "I think a lot of people miss that when they're trying to push cloud on everyone,'' he says. "If I'm an enterprise with all these servers that are so efficient and have consolidated equipment down to a couple of racks and I deploy what I need there and have a half-empty data center, I'm not not going to use that space."

But small- and medium-sized companies are not very likely to build a data center, Harrington adds, since it's not their core competency. The same goes for enterprises that need computing capacity in other parts of the world, so they will look at colocation, then buy and maintain their own infrastructure in other facilities so they don't have to build their own data centers.

Colocation, cloud picking up steam

In the future, when it comes to utilizing data centers, "You're either outsourcing to colocation or you're outsourcing to cloud,'' maintains Harrington. "It's hard to say" if colo is bigger than cloud currently, or which model will be more popular going forward. With the number of apps being deployed, he suspects that cloud is growing faster than colocation right now, but colo is also on the rise.

If a company decides it doesn't want to own its own data center any longer, the question becomes how to best manage the timing of the transition, says Villars. Transitions are usually tied to the age and status of a company's current data center. "If you built one five years ago the finance department is still amortizing it. So there will be financial reasons you can't" make the transition.

He advises companies thinking about outsourcing to a data center provider to first do an analysis of where they are at from a capital standpoint. The second step is to "rationalize your existing systems before you move" -- meaning figure out the reason for the number of servers and configurations you have. It's important to significantly reduce the physical number of servers.

Customers may have many as 30 to 50 different amounts of memory and storage, and some servers may have multiple processors.

The next "rationalization" is to look at your application portfolio. Companies might have multiple databases so consolidate your data sets and the number of apps doing the same job so you don't have as much to patch and maintain. A key best practice, he says, before you make the move: "Clean up your environment and limit the scope -- then you can shift to a third-party data center faster."

A lot of companies use the move as an excuse to do system rationalization, he says, so if you try to do both at the same time it will lead to significant downtime. "Just moving to a new data center isn't going make it better; you have to get rid of the inefficiencies first," Villars says.

The transition to colocation will also be much less painless if you've moved from your data center to a service provider, especially if you've already done the upfront work of virtualization and utilizing cloud services catalogs, he says. That makes for a much easier migration to cloud.

Outsourcing to a data center provider has been pretty straightforward for Nightingale's Ullah. "Everything is about using the best tools for the job and the best company to provide the services for you,'' he says. "If we have an issue or need help we call the provider. That allows us to focus solely on our product, which we do best," versus having to deal with "all the extra noise."

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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