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2015 data center operations trends: Integration, efficiency

451 Research Chief Analyst Eric Hanselman discusses the trends he sees for data center operations in the next 12 months.

If 2014 was the year enterprises aggressively purchased technologies to anchor their data center operations, 2015 will be the time companies quietly focus on making sure those new gadgets and systems work well together.

"The year ahead is integration and operational efficiency," said Eric Hanselman, chief analyst at New York-based 451 Research. "These are the things that will be the hallmark of what we see taking place in 2015."

Hanselman shared his 2015 data center forecast with SearchNetworking, saying that the next 12 months will also see ongoing interest in leaf-spine network designs, virtualization and, of course, security.

"We saw a bunch of networking investments taking place last year," Hanselman said, as organizations began to feel more comfortable in accelerating their capex spending. The ratification of the 802.11ac wireless standard, meantime, fueled interest in wireless controllers, access points and associated components engineered for the higher-speed specification. That combination, Hanselman said, ushered in a slew of core upgrade projects meant to ensure network performance.

The revolution has started, but right now the number of revolutionaries willing to join the fray is rather small.
Eric Hanselmanchief analyst, 451 Research

The next 12 months "will see a little bit of a retreat from those priorities," Hanselman said. "Networking is beginning to take a small step backward from the budget allocated. Enterprises will continue to add capacity where necessary, but it won't have the same budgetary emphasis that occurred last year."

Instead, enterprises will be focusing on the fundamental components supporting their data center operations, including storage and computational density on the server side. "Now it's time to get it all plugged in and integrated with the compute environment capabilities they already have," Hanselman said.

Enterprises continue to mull 40 Gigabit Ethernet, cloud

That said, enterprises won't be sitting still. There will be a lot of discussion about 40 Gigabit Ethernet connectivity in the data center, and IT execs will be weighing where and how they'll integrate the cloud within their operations.

"Folks are talking about hybrid [infrastructures], but the reality today is ensuring there is enough performance on external connections to get out to the various services that enterprises have begun to consume in greater volumes," Hanselman said.

That focus on cloud computing will also force IT managers to reassess their application performance management strategies, Hanselman said. "The difficulty there for most organizations is that they've done very well managing the branch office network, but making the step from the kind of technologies they were using at the branch [to what’s required when accessing applications from multiple sources] is still new to a lot of enterprises, so we'll see some attention there," Hanselman said. "If you are headed to a software-as-a-service capability, there are a lot of different ways your traffic can flow, and it takes a lot of skills to determine how well your Office 365 traffic is performing."

Fabrics, leaf-spine accelerate in data center designs

Data center interconnection strategies, meantime, will continue to accelerate, as enterprises move beyond proprietary fabrics to leaf-spine designs. "A year ago leaf-spine was relatively new; now we have a much broader set of vendors embracing it and capabilities that make deployment simple, and more importantly, networking switch platforms that make it cost-effective," Hanselman said.

The vast majority of those switch platforms, however, will remain proprietary in 2015. While white-box switches have gained some momentum within the enterprise -- driven in part by moves by Dell and Juniper to allow customers to use alternative operating systems on certain switches -- "it's still a path that's very early in adoption," Hanselman said. "The revolution has started, but right now the number of revolutionaries willing to join the fray is rather small."

Software-defined networking will also continue to make inroads in data center operations, although Hanselman said the majority will feature overlay designs. "There is good stuff that's being done with OpenFlow, but the ease of adoption of overlays has meant they have been a much simpler path in terms of being able to create dynamic connectivity, especially as we see greater connectivity densities come with the deployment of leaf-spine," he said.

Finally, no prediction about data center trends would be complete without mentioning security, and like every other observer, Hanselman said security will be a major area of concentration among enterprises in 2015.

"2014 was the year of shock. Everybody woke up and realized how bad the situation really was," he said. "Next year will be the year we begin to migrate from eagerness to get the next generation firewall in place, to understand that security is not just an individual product but has to branch out to a whole range of security possibilities. It's more than just access points, but now it's expanding -- whether it's more sophisticated analysis or network behavior systems, all the way out to the identity and access capabilities that are necessary to support a fully distributed enterprise workforce."

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The other data center trend that is being led by the major vendors such as Google and Facebook is the use of renewable energy to run them and cool them. It'd be nice to see more of this, not just because it's better for the environment but because it makes companies more self-sufficient.
Chuck and Eric, thanks for sharing the trends!

Agree with you Sharon on renewables. Consumer-facing brands seem the greenest.

Separately, it seems that many enterprises seem to follow a 4-5 year moving cycle chasing whatever various municipal, county and state tax incentives are most delectable at the time, every time there's a server refresh. Especially if it's a lower cost state. And if there's renewable energy too, great. I see this data center "off-locating" leading to the creation of many future colo centers. It's not a new trend though.

Also want to point out for Eric that efficient integration of newish network, compute and storage necessarily includes the "last mile" -- the management hardware and network that admins use to access and control all these wonderful new toys. That's not often discussed. Yet, that's where smart, consolidated IT management of legacy-to-modern hardware (CNS+Pwr) saves SMBs and enterprises time, money and hassle by moving many management hardware capabilities to web-scale management software, as with NodeGrid Manager. I'm talking my own book - but it's true. The last 10-15% of nuts-and-bolts data center capex/opex reduction shouldn't be ignored. :-)