The structure of data centers is changing. Gartner attributes this to the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and increased investment in what it describes as the Nexus of Forces — technologies primarily built for cloud, social, mobile and information management.

For much of the past 40 years, data centers have been staples of the IT ecosystem. However,  IT departments need to develop new strategies for managing their data centers or business agility and competitive strength will be compromised.

The solution, Gartner suggests, is to develop new data center strategies for the digital world, according to a recently released report.

Addressing Change

When internal speed is lacking, organizations may be tempted to switch to external cloud providers that specialize in data center management. However, that can expose them to an increased level of risk and add complexity to already strained IT resources.

"Most traditional IT organisations are too slow to respond to what the LOB’s (Line-of-Business) want. If bringing up a development platform for a new mobile application takes many months to procure and somebody like AWS can do it in hours, the LOB’s will use AWS," Rakesh Kumar, managing vice president at Gartner and author of the report author, told CMSWire.

Until now, the role of data centers has changed relatively little. While there have been improvements in hardware, power usage, storage capabilities and design, their basic function and core requirements have remained unchanged. Those requirements include:

  • High levels of availability and redundancy
  • Well-documented processes to manage change
  • Vendor management
  • Robust organizational structures

In the digital world of cloud, social, IoT and mobile this is not a workable strategy, 

"There will always be a set of applications that require a focus on these traditional areas as listed above. And we call these Mode 1 applications. These require high governance and low change and are typically legacy systems. But the new breed of applications around social, mobile, internet of things and digital business do not require a strong focus in the traditional areas," Kumar said.

2015 4 17 gartner data center evolution.jpg

5 Reasons Why

1. Data Centers as Factories

By 2020 and in response to the growth of the IoT, Gartner estimates that there will be close to 35 million connected devices serving more than seven billion people and the business tasks that they carry out. This will result in a significant increase in the amount of data pulsing through networks much quicker than it is even now.

The data will have to be processed as well as analyzed by businesses seeking ever greater competitive edge. If data centers don’t behave as data factories, then their organizational value will diminish.

Many existing data centers will be able to behave as factories (churning through vast amounts of data) and as laboratories (doing analytics). In this case specialist data centers will probably not be needed. But this scenario may change," he said.

2. Agile Data Centers

The disruption caused by digital business will continue to power massive innovation and drive significant changes in the way IT interacts with the organization. In fact, there have been so many different waves of digital disruption in recent years that from the outside it appears like a single continuous stream of IT change.

To deal with these changes, organizations need to become agile while at the same time maintaining security and he integrity of processes. The result is the rise of bimodal IT or IT that operates at two different modes and speeds with interlinked but different strategies depending on the specific IT project.

Data centers will have to respond more broadly and faster. As a result, infrastructure and operations (I&O) groups will need to develop an approach that leads innovation rather than responds to it.

3. Risk Management

With the 35 billion connected devices, managing security and risk is going to be a key issues for enterprises that want to get on board the IoT. Data centers are the heart of the IoT.

The risk that this creates is different than risk in the past where traditional data centers have focused on risk associated with downtime, system availability or application-centric breaches.

As the IoT and digital businesses grow, the risk grows — resulting in the creation of roles like digital risk officer. On top of this, no single entity in the enterprise will be responsible for entire transactions, so new service elements will emerge and create a new set of assurance challenge in transactions.

4. Hybrid Technology

By 2017 more than 50 percent of total IT spend is expected to come from outside of IT departments in other areas like marketing or business. As a result, infrastructure and operations leaders must ensure that their internal data centers are able to connect into a broader hybrid technology.

This is not just about connecting data centers to each other physically. It’s also about connecting at a software level by providing support to Apache Hadoop or Azure environments.

5. Embrace the New

With digital business there will be new digital technologies that will need to be managed in data centers too. There will be technology and data associated with mobile devices that will need software configurations, standardized operating environments and security patching through data centers to work.

The kinds of devices will also start changing and will include things like small measurement devices (sensors and remote network transmitters) forcing data center managers to rethink strategies around this.

There will also be changes in the way data centers are provision with storage, network equipment and severs all forcing data center managers to rethink the way they procure materials and support those new materials.

Just a Dream?

While a lot of this appears aspirational, Kumar says that many enterprises are already developing their data center strategies around these points:

Most of the CIO’s of large companies I speak to are doing this now. They have some internal data centers AND are using cloud providers. They are focusing on speed over absolute resilience and are being forced to create new infrastructure platforms that are focused on agility and innovation. Agile development is becoming widespread as are hybrid data center models."