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Five key trends in data center technology

Enterprise data center technology is evolving more quickly than ever before. To decide what steps you need to take, consider these five trends.

The great thing about technology is that it continually evolves. There is always something new to learn and always...

a new data center technology that is just around the corner.

Of course, the downside is this: While you have exciting things to learn, in many cases, there are too many of them to learn at once. The other potential downside is you might get the feeling you are falling behind if you don't continually improve. For large enterprises, similar pros and cons apply. Yes, they have options to leverage new technology, but on the other hand, in many cases, the software and hardware they bought just a year ago is already outdated -- and needs to be replaced.

With the right software in place, a company can achieve both agility and elasticity.

The same situation applies to enterprise data centers. As a network or data center administrator who is faced with a never-ending list of new technology to investigate, what should you be looking for and focusing on?

My recommendations? Focus your time on these five key data center technologies.

1. Commoditization of hardware

In the past, dedicated hardware was created for specific cases. Routers and switches were created for networking, mini-computers were made for compute and storage-specific hardware was created for storage. Today, things are changing where the hardware that runs all of those critical data center services is becoming a commodity. What this means is that the same x86 server (for example, a Super Micro Computer Inc. server), when loaded with the right software, can become your data center's compute, storage or network platform. This evolution promises to provide companies with a comprehensive foundation that offers great flexibility, agility and lower cost.

2. Software is eating the world

In an article he wrote for The Wall Street Journal, Marc Andreesen predicted that it's software, not hardware, which will ultimately anchor the next round of data center technology advancements.

More and more, this is becoming the case -- across not just the consumer world, but the network wiring closet and data center as well. In the consumer world, a single device like the iPad can perform tasks that formerly required an assembly of boxes to complete. Likewise, in the wiring closet, a single device now performs a variety of network functions with new capabilities added as easily as downloading an app to your tablet. Finally, in the data center, a handful of commodity devices will be able to provide storage, networking and compute -- each scaling without difficulty to meet ever-changing demands. That same software can programmatically control, automate and orchestrate the data center.

3. Agility and elasticity

With the right software in place, a company can achieve both agility and elasticity. Agility allows enterprises to spin up new applications and IT services for their data center technology as needed. Elasticity enables enterprises to expand capacity as needed and tear it down when unneeded. Hybrid cloud and Software-as-a-Service options, meantime, fuel additional agility and elasticity by connecting robust external resources.

4. Convergence

More and more, the distinct silos of the data center -- compute, storage and network -- are being combined. This convergence might happen when compute and storage combine, when storage and network combine or when all mesh together. Convergence happens on the commodity hardware we talked about and it happens using software. Additionally, when convergence occurs, it is increasingly being based on flash storage and its underlying capabilities.

5. Flash storage

Proven in the consumer space, flash storage is quickly moving into the data center. The technology is now being added into the server itself, in storage systems to augment spinning disks or to replace the disks themselves.

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All-flash arrays offer some compelling advantages. Since they don't have any moving parts, they consume less power and they read data much more quickly than conventional storage devices. But they are pricey, and write speeds are slower than mechanical devices. To that end, hybrid arrays that use flash to perform certain functions are becoming a logical choice. With a hybrid array, the intelligence of the software in the array can make a huge difference as it determines what is put into the cache and what isn't. (You don't want backup data or snapshots taking up room and slowing down more critical applications.)

In other cases, companies are putting flash directly into servers and using it as a caching layer between the server and the storage. The most optimum place to add flash varies, based on the application and other storage systems in use. That said, no matter where it is used, it will improve performance and scalability in the data center, especially as costs come down and capacities go up.

This was last published in March 2014

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