I read recently that 50% of data centers will exceed capacity by 2012 - capacity being some variable combination of physical space, available power or available cooling. I am skeptical. I agree that if you project the current growth rate and available capacity and such, you could come up with the 50% number, but, we are far from status quo in our data center opportunities. I would hesitate to break out the wrecking ball. Today I see three, sort of distinct, opportunities that every data center manager should be looking at very hard before they write the big check for new real estate.
The first is efficiency. There are numerous avenues available here including consolidation (through virtualization), server refresh with more powerful ( and more efficient ) servers, and new approaches to cooling. If we quit thinking of the data center as a room, and start thinking of it as mainframe in a really big box, our approach to cooling can become radically different. Why make a data center comfortable? Instead just keep it within the boundaries of warranties. Nobody wants to be in there anyway. Data center optimization should be your first initiative - learn more opportunities for effiency from Werner.
The second path to capacity containment is external hosting. Improvements in network speed and reliability have nearly negated the need for local data centers, and many businesses already rely on geo distributed data centers. The shift to letting someone else build and run the raised floor area just makes sense. I think of the shift from self run data centers to commercially hosted data centers much like the shift from private to commercial suppliers for power and communications. It is also a shift that can be executed incrementally, moving just some of the application hosting to a service provider. A variation on this theme is the SAAS( software as a service) model - for example salesforce.com*. Virtually everyone in the application business is offering, or planning to offer soon, down the wire applications. Can you really run an email system for your staff better than a commercial system? By applying data center optimization and taking advantage of targeted hosting and SAAS, a data center owner can squeeze at least a few more years out of the current raised floor real estate.
For some businesses, or at least for some of their applications, commercial hosting or SAAS is not seen as viable. The application is too important a value differentiator, or the data is too big, or the work to special, or, whatever. This is especially prevalent in engineering and finance where large amounts of "top secret" compute are executed. Well, there is a solution here as well. When you need to "own every line of code, and how it is run" you can still shift some of the work to machines outside your data center and defer capacity expansion. I am referring to "cloud computing". The most recognized example of this is in the compute service offered by Amazon* that uses spare cycles in their server structure. I think we will see a growing number of large scale internet and service companies offering up clouds. With cloud computing you push a "unit of work" to be executed in a service providers compute cloud. With appropriate encryption and obfuscation, the "unit of work" can remain as secret and secure as you wish. The application, database, and work results remain under local management and control.
If I were looking at a shrinking capacity window( any type of capacity) in my data center, I would pay attention to these opportunities, and their variations. I would be looking very hard at my next $25,000,000 data center expansion to understand if an alternate approach and architecture could shift those funds to better use.
*Other brands may be claimed as the property of others