Tomorrow's data center

The next generation of data centers is enabling industries to support large-scale, high-performance, high-availability business applications while lowering costs.
Written by Hing Wing To,, Contributor
Commentary - The role of the data center as a part of business operations continues to become ever more central and mission-critical as enterprises employ technology to become more interconnected, instrumented and intelligent. This evolution is changing the way business and IT leaders think about the future of the data center.

The days of the data center operating as an isolated business automation function are long gone. For most organizations, today’s data center is at the heart of the business. It supports a wide variety of business functions, including tracking the status and use of assets, ensuring the availability and performance of business processes, collecting vital market and customer data, and, for many enterprises, the data center is the face of the business on the Web.

While the data center has changed extensively in recent years, the transformation has only just begun. In fact, the pace of change is increasing as new business opportunities and challenges arise:

• There appears to be no end to the data explosion – data volumes are doubling every 18 months in the typical organization – and the continued rise of business analytics and data-driven decision making is causing businesses to want to keep every last byte of data they generate and collect.

• Stakeholder and regulatory pressures are having a major impact on the data center in areas such as identity and access management, data retention, audit control and compliance as well as in the area of environmental sustainability.

• The convergence of information technology and physical assets - enabled by a range of innovations from RFID through to intelligent, network-connected devices, plant, and infrastructure - is connecting the data center directly to all aspects of the business as well as to customers and business partners. This growing convergence comes with heightened concerns about service availability, performance and capacity.

• Enterprises are adapting to the increasing pace of business change and the need to react rapidly to new opportunities and competitive threats. They are looking for ways to leverage cloud computing models to create more agile, flexible and cost-effective data center operations.

In response to these challenges, data center managers are changing key aspects of their operations. They are increasingly virtualizing servers, storage and network resources. New categories of service management software are enabling cloud service automation, rapid provisioning and self-service. Data centers are becoming ever more transparent, giving both owners and users better visibility into their operations, performance and cost. Process-based service management is becoming the norm, ensuring data center configurations are under strict and audited control. Also broader use of automated processes is helping data center managers to improve service while controlling costs.

As an example, today’s banking industry is one of the most complex systems on the planet, moving more than 75 trillion dollars a day around the world. With a massively interconnected and interdependent financial supply chain, it has an ecosystem that requires a constant flow of information.

Integrated service management gives financial institutions the data center capabilities necessary to manage all the interconnected processes and operational tasks. The banking industry needs clear visibility into how this system is performing; strict controls to ensure its integrity; high levels of automation to get the job done.

By delivering these things, the next generation of data centers is enabling banking and other industries to support large-scale, high-performance, high-availability business applications while lowering costs.

One of the biggest challenge in lowering data center costs today is supporting the huge growth in data volumes. Cost per byte of storage continues to fall at a rate that exceeds Moore’s Law, but data growth is outpacing even that.

A smarter data center is going to see the wholesale adoption of technologies such as real-time compression, data de-duplication and automated migration to keep data growth under control. These technologies are all available today and have some of the most compelling business cases for investment: well-managed data environment can reduce the total cost of ownership by up to 30 percent by reducing complexity, labor expenses and cutting power and cooling costs. The typical payback on such a project can be as short as three to 12 months.

Securing the heart of the enterprise
As the data center transforms and grows, ensuring critical data is secure becomes a key concern, especially in light of the fact that the number of devices connected to networks and systems are skyrocketing, as is the amount and sensitivity of the data these devices generate.

Current numbers are startling. About 49 percent of data breaches are caused by lost or stolen laptops or other device such as USB drives. Companies’ profits are getting hit. The average cost of a corporate data breach reached $7.2 million in 2010, up from $6.8 million in 2009, according to the 2010 Annual Study: U.S. Cost of a Data Breach conducted by the Poneman Institute. Public and private organizations around the world faced increasingly sophisticated, customized threats in 2010, according to the IBM X-Force Trend and Risk Report issued in March 2011.

Companies can take many different steps to improve security barriers, but the human factor remains one of the biggest risks that businesses and data center managers face today. Mobility is a reality of today’s networks — employees use their personal devices to log in from hotels, home, or other offices, and take laptops and smart devices on the road. Lost or stolen devices can expose intellectual property. Careless use of corporate networks can lead to the uncontrolled circulation of internal documents. Malicious insiders can introduce malware or undertake corporate espionage.

Fully managed information protection services can reduce these risks while saving up to 40 percent of the total cost of ownership. Among the services available are email protection management services, a managed backup cloud that provides automatic data protection for servers, desktops and laptops, with back-ups and quick file recoveries.

With such a complex environment, security is required not only in the data center, but at every endpoint. To truly obtain control of the heart of their organization, IT management needs to have a top down view so businesses can align systems around the context of the business services and applications they support. This integrated service management approach enables organizations to take advantage of technologies such as cloud computing and virtualization, and to manage the security challenges of a complex, mobile and interconnected business.

For many organizations, it may very well feel like they’re dealing with a Hydra these days. The reality is that most of us know that these demands are only going to increase.

Data is the currency of our society and driving every aspect of business. It is integrated into every aspect of our lives, whether it’s our Facebook pages, our iPhone apps or our corporate networks and IT infrastructure. Thinking about what is required tomorrow can prepare businesses for any IT challenge and more importantly, help them leverage their data center for competitive differentiation and mining revenue opportunities.

Dr. Hing Wing To is the vice president of strategy and product management for the Tivoli brand within IBM Software Group. His team’s mission is to direct the end-to-end Tivoli product portfolio strategy to create and deliver Integrated Service Management solutions that help organizations effectively manage their infrastructures.

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