• 11/19/2013
    9:06 AM
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The Future Datacenter Comes With Fries

The enterprise datacenter is moving toward a bundled, integrated, pre-configured, standards-based model. Soon you may order one up as easily as a laptop or a Happy Meal.

I often say my many decades in IT have taught me that bigger is never big enough, faster is never fast enough, and cheaper is never cheap enough. I continue to adhere to these beliefs. Even when we seem to solve one issue, we create a whole new problem, or a new latent demand is unleashed. Why do I mention this? Simply because I want to make it clear that what follows is a conceptual thought, and not to be taken too literally.

Here's the concept: The device that you are reading this article on (I'm assuming you didn't print it. Please go hide under a rock if so!) is akin to the datacenter of the future. Maybe it's a tablet; maybe it's a laptop. But it represents the future datacenter. In this respect, the consumerization of IT is a long way behind consumerized personal IT, but it is catching up quickly.

Think back a decade or two to when you were setting up your home or personal IT capability. You would buy a processor, memory, and storage -- maybe together, maybe separately, but always paying close attention to the specs. Then you would pick a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and so on. You would act as the system engineer and administrator, load an operating system and some software, and hope you got it all correct.

These days, it would no more occur to most of us to assemble the components of a PC ourselves than to go buy an engine, chassis, and wheels to start building a car. We don't want to be automotive engineers; we want to drive somewhere. And personal computing is similar.

You simply choose a laptop or desktop from the many available at Best Buy or Amazon, easy as going through the drive-through at McDonald's. You open the device up, and -- bingo -- a few personal details, maybe a password for the correct network connection, and away you go. It will be pre-loaded with all the basic applications, and you'll be communicating, interacting, and sharing data, using standard protocols and tools.    

In other words, your new PC is a fully converged, reference-architected, pre-configured, interoperable, cloud-integrated platform. Indeed, depending whether you opted for a "value meal" or the "super-sized" option, it might also be flash-based, federated, mobile, and big-data-enabled. Sure, there will also be a few geeks and corner-case users that prefer the older model, and who will choose their sound cards and drive speeds and find ways to super-charge their tablets' memories. But for most of us, most of the time, we go with the package.

Why? Because it works, it does what we need, it's fast to deploy, does most things well enough, is standards-based, and invariably is most economical. In other words, it is a tool, and not an occupation.

IT and datacenters are conceptually going the same way. The manifestations of this are all around us in both action and parlance, evidenced by "software-defined X, Y, and Z," "convergence," "integrated stacks," and cloud versions of -- and extensions to -- everything. Whether things like mobility and BYOD are symptoms or causes is irrelevant, as each fans the flames of the other.

But the transition to "meal-deal datacenters" is driven by exactly the same influences that made us stop building the personal computing systems as we did 15 or 20 years ago. Bundled, integrated, pre-configured, standards-based, and easy-to-use systems (of whatever scale) are flexible, cost-effective, and have a fast time-to-value. Businesses want that as much as -- and one could argue, more than -- individuals.

As the demands upon both business and personal technology grow, and as we all increasingly realize that IT is now a central necessity to our lives and businesses (rather than a nice adjunct to process payroll or to allow you to play PacMan) there is a parallel appreciation for the fact that it cannot grow to consume ever-greater percentages of operating budgets. Nor can IT remain the domain of white-coated specialists who essentially reinvent the wheel in every deployment and every organization.

The technical complexity of IT gear will remain, but it will be subsumed increasingly to the component and system vendors. Just as personal computing has become simplified, business IT will increasingly become more of a tool, simply ordered off a menu, and less of an occupation. Careers will change to focus on deeply understanding the needs of a business in order to derive maximum value from its IT tools, and they will be far less about putting all the components together.

In effect, you'll only need to know whether you want a small, medium, or large datacenter system. What you achieve with that system will be far more important than the system itself. This is exactly akin to the various uses and myriad capabilities that individuals already demonstrate on their personal-sized servings of IT today. 


Future of IT

Mark, thanks for the very insightful -- and entertaining -- piece. I think you are right that IT will increasingly become something businesses order off the shelf, or as a service, for that matter. But I'm not sure about the statement that "business IT will become more of a tool, and less of an occupation." Perhaps the IT folks won't be doing the exact same things, but the role of technology is expanding so much in every aspect of business that I think there will still be plenty of places left for technical workers at both the strategic and troubleshooting levels. Other thoughts?

Re: Future of IT

Yes. The tools may become more standardized, but jobs IT professionals will need to do will become ever more complex. The complexity may then call for more changes in the tools, until the standards can be expanded to encompass the changes that were successful and/or widely adapted. The never-ending cycle.

Re: Future of IT

You make an excellent point about the leap-frog and never-ending cycles. And I like your phrasing - the tools get simpler for sure, but the job of IT does not! Thanks for the comment  

Re: Future of IT

Thanks for your comment. Indeed, I wasn't trying to imply the death knell of technical support! I was simply trying to use a strong statement to complete the analogy to personal computing and to point out that the balance of IT's role and efforts will tip (I believe dramatically) to delivering bsuiness value rather than delivering a working system. The latter is of course critical but will be more a function of the integrated platforms and so will consume less IT time.  

Re: Future of IT

Englishmdp, I think you are probably right on the corporate level. Most IT departments will focus much more on how technology can make their business run most efficiently, and the nuts and bolts of how that works on a daily basis will be subsumed within products and services. I worry that our technical readers will be threatened by that, so I always want to point out that technical positions will still exist. But I agree with you that many of those will move somplace else. Either to service providers or vendors that are supplying the technology, in most cases.

Re: Future of IT

Agreed - but equally, no-one should want to willingly act like an ostrich....and planning and awareness are good career guidance tools!


The data center is a value meal

I have to confess, Mark. Your analogy equating the datacenter of the future to a MacDonald's value meal is intriguing! But your arguments are also very compelling "evidenced by "software-defined X, Y, and Z," "convergence," "integrated stacks," and cloud versions of -- and extensions to -- everything." plus modularization which seems to me to be a game-changer. Who are -- or will be -- the early adopters and what will the data center of the future look like?




Re: The data center is a value meal

I'm glad you enjoyed the piece - I often think simple analogies can cut through a lot of confusion. The early adopters will, I think, be a function of individual and corporate attitudes rather than of particular workloads or industry verticals. We are already seeing the uptake of integrated systems occuring and I suspect - as I say - that the Data Center of the future will look a lot more like a rack (or racks)that you buy and use - cloud connected of course in most cases - than a building that you construct, fill and conduct science-projects in.  

But who owns the Infrastructure

Not only will IT infrastructure become more bundled and 'normalized' into consistent product categories and sizes, much like standard-sized consumer products (think soft drinks, cereal, soup cans, ...), but the infrastructure itself will be owned and operated by someone else, not IT. Whether it's a multi-tenant cloud like AWS or a hybrid private instance like's new Superpods (dedicated infrastructure run by and from a Salesforce DC), IT will increasingly be out of the business of running data centers and associated servers, storage and networks.

Re: But who owns the Infrastructure

I can only say that I agree!