Data Center Disruption: Are You Ready for a Dramatic Change in Energy Prices?

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New technologies such as personal computers, the Internet, mobile devices and social media have transformed the way we work and live and the way enterprises do business.

While transformational change has until now eluded data center, a series of steady improvements have set the stage for something big, according to Constellation Research Vice President and Principal Analyst J. Bruce Daley.

“The incremental improvement of 50 years has led us to the point where now data centers are really ripe for disruption,” Daley told an audience attending a recent Schneider Electric/Computerworld conference in New York City on optimizing the data center for greater business value. “The change is about to become explosive.”

In his presentation, titled “Today’s Data Center: A Case Study in Disruptive Innovation,” Daley focused on the distinction between improvement and innovation.

“That distinction comes down to necessity. While improvement enhances existing products, processes or markets, it doesn’t create disruption.  Disruption results from a fundamental need to change,” Daley said.  Genuine innovation does, by reimagining an existing product or process or by creating an entirely new market. Innovation, he said, is disruptive in a positive way and can transform a business.

Among the major innovations of the past, Daley said, were the car (which replaced the horse) and the plane (which created a new market). In the more modern technology era, Daley said, Sony’s Walkman – which debuted in 1979 – was a significant innovation.

“Now you could go anywhere you wanted and listen to music,” he said. “The Walkman gave you the ability to be untethered from your stereo.”

In contrast, the Sony Dual Cassette Walkman, released in 1985, merely allowed users to load a second tape. “So instead of being able to listen to one cassette, I could listen to two cassettes,” Daley said. “That’s an example of incremental improvement. It’s just a small change.”

Looming threat

Though incremental change has served data centers well until now, the innovation poised to transform the data center couldn’t come at a better time because another kind of disruption looms.

“In the future, the most likely cause of disruption in your data center is going to be a dramatic change in energy prices,” he said. “That is the biggest environmental threat to data centers.”

At the heart of this looming dilemma are two realities of data centers that are troubling in and of themselves, and potentially disastrous when combined:

1) Data center energy use over the past 20 years has quadrupled.

2) Server utilization is only at 10% or less. Daley called low utilization “the dirty little secret of data centers.”

“Two percent of the world’s energy goes into data centers, which are only 10% utilized,” Daley said. “My contention is that sometime in the next decade we’re going to have another energy crisis, and energy prices are going to double, triple, quadruple.”

Infrastructure management imperative

These factors alone make the ability to effectively manage data center infrastructures increasingly critical to an enterprise’s success and ability to cope with disruption. Add in the growing deluge of data flooding enterprises, along with the perpetual pressure to control costs, and the need for data center infrastructure management (DCIM) becomes increasingly obvious.

DCIM enables enterprises to optimize performance and utilization, leading to savings in infrastructure (fewer servers), resource usage and energy efficiency.

How to accomplish those goals was the main focus of the Schneider Electric/Computerworld conference. In subsequent posts we’ll look at the insights, observations and advice from other conference speakers, including Schneider Electric Vice President of Mission Critical Software and Services, Domenic Alcaro.

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