From the Lab

Three Data Center Technology Trends

As hubs of the digital economy, data centers are linked to numerous industries. Their operations can be impacted by change in the real estate, IT, energy sectors, or any of the verticals that they serve. Web-scale companies that run their own data centers in hyper-scale mode are especially influential.

Some new technologies are more confined to the Web-scale companies, but several broad trends are hitting today’s multi-tenant data centers (MTDCs), namely: the rise of open and interoperable systems, the shift toward modular design, and the rise of enterprise-class management software.

Open systems. Exhibit A is the Open Compute Project (OCP), launched by Facebook in 2011 as a way to share its data center designs. The OCP now includes 150 member companies and thousands of participants working on data center, open rack, server, storage and other specifications. Companies making data center IT components now commonly tout interoperability with third-party devices in their press releases. Certification is a challenge, but momentum is building there, too. The University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab (UNH-IOL), for instance, released definitive results in October of a series of OCP networking tests involving network operating system (NOS) software, switches, optical modules and cables.

Modular design. The flipside of openness is modularity, or the design of a system into separate functional units. Whereas open technologies serve as alternatives to a closed or single-provider solution, modularity is more about logic and efficiency. (In some cases, however, what customers want is a pre-integrated rack of servers.) Modularity also relates to requirements and costs. Prefabricated data center vaults, such as the kind we use at Keystone NAP, can be custom-configured and rapidly deployed. The distinction between different kinds of storage needs, as another example, is driving disruption in the storage area networking (SAN) industry, which could result in new and more efficient kinds of servers.

Enterprise software. Enabling efficiency in the previous example is software, which is already on a general course of disrupting the broader networking industry. Apart from virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN), however, a more immediate trend impacting MTDCs is the slow but steady rise of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software. Moreover, the realization is setting in, as Yevgeniy Sverdlik writes in this Data Center Knowledge article, that DCIM is less of an easy-to-install consumer product than an enterprise tool “where implementation is a big job in itself.” The payoff, however, includes boosts in energy, labor and capital efficiency.