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3 Datacenter Trends To Watch In 2014

Datacenter operators will continue to focus on energy efficiency and security while investigating software-defined strategies this year.

There was so much activity in the datacenter arena in 2013 -- from innovative approaches to reducing data centers' environmental impact to the software-defined-everything trend -- that it would be foolhardy to try to sum up all the datacenter trends to watch for in 2014 in a single post.

That said, much of what we can expect to see in the datacenter arena in the coming year falls into one of three categories. So rather than trying to boil the ocean here, let's focus on those three overarching trends:

1) Datacenter operators will continue to experiment with new ways of reducing their facilities' carbon footprints.

One of the most persistent trends of 2013 was the steady stream of alternative methods for powering and cooling data centers. From Microsoft's work to essentially place tiny power plants on server racks to Facebook's plans to power a data center in Altoona, Iowa entirely with wind, there seemed to be no end to the ideas for making datacenters more self-sustaining.

If there was any doubt that this trend would accelerate in 2014, it was erased with the news that the NSA was getting into the act with a deal to purchase wastewater from nearby Howard County, Maryland to cool a data center the agency is building at Forte Meade. When an agency such as the NSA starts thinking about conservation of water and power, it's safe to declare the environmental bandwagon as very crowded.

In fact, in a recent survey of 400 data center managers, IDC found that reducing energy consumption ranked as their No. 1 priority. Jennifer Koppy, an IDC research analyst, said via email that she expects continued innovations as companies look for new ways to water cool and ambient air cool their facilities, but she doesn't expect that to be the prevailing approach in 2014.

"The bulk of investments will be made in equipment that exists today that consumes less energy while increasing performance," Koppy said.

2) The software-defined-everything trend that is raising the bar on modular, nimble data center design will reach mainstream status.

One big reason the software-defined datacenter concept hasn't spread more quickly through enterprises is the rampant confusion over what exactly it is. The eagerness of tech vendors to slap "software-defined" labels on anything and everything has left IT decision-makers wary of what exactly they should be looking for.

But they know it's important, because important people keep telling them it is. EMC CEO Joe Tucci breathlessly declared at Oracle's OpenWorld show in October that SDDCs would "change everything." IBM devoted significant research resources to the topic, such as when it joined forces with Marist College to invent software it says will help enterprises' business continuity efforts. And venture capitalists keep pouring gobs of money into companies touting "software-defined" products.

After last year's hype, 2014 should bring more clarity to enterprises, enabling them to better determine which software-defined data center elements can benefit them, and how.

[Read how new software-defined tools are helping to reduce the complexity associated with distance in datacenter environments in "5 Ways Software-Defined Tech Simplifies Datacenter Management."]

IDC's Koppy believes mainstream acceptance of software-defined everything is a few years away, though. She expects 2014 to draw continued interest and additional investment in datacenter infrastructure management tools as organizations aspire toward a software-defined path.

But Koppy also expects many organizations to decide not to take on the complexity of a datacenter rethink themselves.

"Many enterprises will decide this year that they don't want to be in the datacenter business, and will leave this innovation to the pros," she said. That includes using more cloud and co-location resources, as well as managed services to meet increased compute needs.

3) Datacenter security will rise to a new level of importance as the scope of the NSA data-snooping revelations causes growing numbers of datacenter operators to shore up their facilities.

The NSA's actions have sent a clear message that black hats are everywhere. Even companies like Google and Yahoo, whose businesses are built on storing and protecting vast swaths of consumer information, discovered that they're targets, forcing them to take stronger security measures.

And when datacenter operators read just how far the NSA has gone to ensure that its hacking capabilities are second to none, it's hard to blame them for take whatever actions they need to in order to deflect the NSA's efforts and retain consumer confidence.

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