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The enterprise data centre will be transformed by technologies such as silicon photonics, rack scale architecture and software defined systems in the near future, claims Intel, saying these technologies will help businesses meet demand for digital services.

The enterprise data centre will be transformed by technologies such as silicon photonics, rack scale architecture and software defined systems in the near future, claims Intel, saying these technologies will help businesses meet demand for digital services.

Speaking at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Diane Bryant, general manager of the firm’s data centre group, laid out the company’s vision for infrastructure development. She said that current architectures are the main “limiter” as businesses come to terms with big data analytics, billions of connected devices and critical workloads.

“When we look out in the not so different future we believe that the data centre will look quite different from today,” she said. 

“It will have moved from where applications are static to dynamic, from operations which are manual to where it is fully automated, and from siloed proprietary solutions to pooled, open and efficiently managed systems running on a common architecture.”

Software defined systems

For Intel, the ability to pool compute, storage and network resources through software defined systems will be key to future data centre architectures. 

“Infrastructure has got be easier to deploy, it has got to scale on demand, it has got to be fully automated and it needs to deliver a consistent guaranteed user experience,” she said, adding that software defined infrastructure has become “critical and inevitable” for the industry.  

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But with the software defined data centre concept still in its infancy, Intel is one of the many companies that are collaborating on the creation of standards to spur deployments. This has meant particpating in the OpenStack project, with Intel one of the top code contributors to the Swift part of the project, Bryant said, as well as providing performance optimisations for Ceph storage.

Meanwhile network virtualisation, which has begun to transform the infrastructure used by telecoms firms, is also set to trickle down to the enterprise, a market expected to be worth in the region of $50 billion to suppliers.

Intel said it now has 85 partners, including Oracle, HP, Citrix, and Dell, signed up to for its Network Builders Program as it aims to encourage adoption of software defined networking.

Rack scale architectures

The next step for software defined systems is the adoption of the rack scale architectures announced by Intel last year. 

The company has been working with a “growing list” of OEDMs, OEMs, ISVs and open source organisations to replace traditional architectures with pooled and disaggregated computing, networking and storage resources using modular hardware.

As you can imagine the majority of IT organisations do not have the data centre scale nor the deep engineering expertise so they can develop a next generation data centre solution like this. It is through industry collaboration and innovation that these kinds of transformation occur.”

The firm has also been moving closer to the launch of its silicon photonics which will be crucial to rack scale computing, replacing copper wire and enabling 100Gbps bandwidth.

Bryant said: “Silicon photonics provides us with the interconnect that allows us to realise RSA in the sense that distance no longer matters. It means that you can deliver capacity based on the required attributes of the application versus delivering it on a preconfigured box or rack.”

At IDF Intel also attempted to head off competition from rival ARM with low power chips  that could be used in hyper-dense servers or rack space architectures, announcing that its Xeon D processors, based on the 14 nanometre Broadwell architecture, will launch next year.

Data centre to behave like ‘human brain’

One of the major announcements at IDF 2014 was the launch of the Xeon E5 server processor. This provided enhanced CPU, memory, storage and networking capabilities from a hardware perspective, but also included features to monitor performance and alert users to oversubscribed virtual machines.

Meanwhile telemetry will allow users to monitor performance through orchestration tools, with metrics on CPU, memory and I/O utilisation, while thermal sensors will provide feedback on temperature and airflow, helping to improve efficiency. 

However this is just the start, said Shannon Poulin, Intel Data Center Group vice president, with plans to connect with management tools from OpenStack, Microsoft and VMware, allowing workloads to be allocate to optimised hardware.

“Eventually the software will demand the capability to land on a piece of hardware that can accelerate its workload,” he told ComputerworldUK. 

“In order to do that you need both the platform to know what it is capable of, and then the software to know what it wants, with some orchestration software that can act as matchmaker and put the two together,” he said.

By opening up APIs to developers, Intel also hopes to offer the potential for a data centre with  a ‘brain’ that can predict outages.

“[We would like to see] application software that runs on top of an orchestration layer that asks what is going on in the platform, because, just as people want to see analytics of customer data, you are also going to get some people who want to do analytics on the infrastructure, to do predictive failure or placement of workloads and so on.”