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The Future Datacenter Comes With Fries

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.