Data centers are fewer, but larger in size: study

Consolidation, virtualization and cloud mean fewer data centers can handle more workloads.

Since 2009, the number of data centers in the United States has been on the decline. However, the data centers that remain are getting bigger and bigger.

That's the conclusion drawn by International Data Corporation, which has been tracking the number of data centers proliferating across the globe. The research firm pegs the total number of data centers in the US at 2.94 million, and growth has stopped -- the number of centers will likely decline somewhat over the next four years, to 2.89 million.

There has been a wave of industrial-strength mega data centers going up in various parts of the country -- especially near hydroelectric sources -- by major cloud and online services providers such as Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft.  To some extent, corporate workloads have shifted away from smaller centers to these behemoths.

In fact, the number of US data centers likely peaked in 2008, as the economic crisis of that year hit, and the resultant closing of hundreds and thousands of remote locations with server closets and rooms.

At the same time, total data center capacity grew by slightly more than 1% as larger data center environments continued to rise despite the economic slowdown. IDC says these trends have continued in the years since 2009 and "reflect a major change in data center and IT asset deployment that will accelerate further in coming years."

Despite the slight decline in total data centers, total data center space will increase significantly, growing from 611.4 million square feet in 2012 to more than 700 million square feet in 2016. By the end of the forecast period, IDC expects service providers will account for more than a quarter of all large data center capacity in place in the United States.

IDC says the shrinkage in total databases, along with expansion of existing sites, is mainly attributable to a dramatic increase in the use of server virtualization to consolidate server assets. "Virtualization and server consolidation drove significant declines in physical data center size and eliminated the need for many smaller data centers as applications were moved to larger central data centers. It also made investments in power and energy management that much more critical for data center managers."

Factors driving the expansion of data centers include rising storage requirements to handle growing volumes of files and rich content, as well as a shift toward a cloud model for application, platform, and infrastructure delivery.

Large internal data centers will not grow at anywhere near the same rate as very large data centers operated by service providers, IDC says. This decline will be concentrated in internal server rooms and closets, with a very small decline in mid-sized local data centers.

(Photo: Wikipedia.)

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