Gartner's Top 10 disruptive datacentre technologies

A new fabric to replace today's blade servers and a "pod" approach to building datacentres are two of the most disruptive future technologies for the enterprise datacentre, Gartner said at its annual datacentre conference.


Datacentres increasingly will be built in separate zones or pods, rather than as one monolithic structure, Gartner analyst Carl Claunch said in a presentation.

Those zones or pods will be built in a fashion similar to the modular datacentres sold in large shipping containers equipped with their own cooling systems. But datacentre pods don't have to be built within actual containers. The distinguishing features are that zones are built with different densities, reducing initial costs, and each pod or zone is self-contained with its own power feeds and cooling, Claunch says.

Cooling costs are minimised because chillers are closer to heat sources; and there is additional flexibility because a pod can be upgraded or repaired without necessitating downtime in other zones, Claunch said.

"Modularisation is a good thing. It gives you the ability to refresh continuously and have higher uptime," Claunch said.

By not treating a datacentre as a homogenous whole, it is easier to separate equipment into high, medium and low heat densities, and devote expensive cooling only to the areas that really need it, Claunch added.

The move to pods and zones is among what Gartner calls the most disruptive technologies affecting the datacentre. These technologies (in no particular order) are storage virtualisation; cloud computing; new server architectures; PC virtualisation; enterprise mashups; specialized systems (aka hardware appliances); social software and social networking; unified communications; zones and pods; and green IT.

Many of these technologies have been covered by Gartner in previous lists (including "Gartner's Top 10 strategic technologies for 2008" and "10 strategic technologies for 2009"). Enterprises won't have to wait long to take advantage of these technologies: All these trends are beginning to happen now or will do so within the next few years, Claunch said.

If Gartner's predictions are correct, the server industry is soon to undergo a significant transformation.

Gartner views today's blade servers as an interim technology that will give way to a new, more flexible type of server that treats memory, processors and I/O cards as shared resources that can be arranged and rearranged to suit a business's needs. Like virtualisation technology, this computing fabric of the future will make hardware more adaptable to changing needs.

IT shops will be able to create machines of whatever size they need, and shift resources around as often as necessary, Claunch said. In addition, instead of relying on vendors to decide what proportion of memory, processing and I/O connections are on each blade, enterprises will be able to buy whatever resources they need in any amount, a far more efficient approach.

While rack servers are self-contained units, today's blade approach allows a combination of some components, Gartner notes. (Compare blade servers.) I/O cards don't have to be included in each blade because they are accessed over a shared fabric. Memory and processors are still fixed parts of each blade, however, limiting flexibility. If extra memory is needed, you may have to buy another blade instead of just accessing the memory of another one, Claunch said.

"The next step in this progression is the introduction of technology to allow several blades to be merged operationally over the fabric, operating as a larger, single system image that is the sum of the components from those blades," a Gartner PowerPoint presentation states. "The fabric-based server of the future will treat memory, processors and I/O cards as components in a pool, combining and recombining them into particular arrangements to suit the owner's needs."

For example, an IT shop could combine 32 processors and any number of memory modules to create one large server that appears to an operating system as a single, fixed computing unit. This approach also will increase usage rates by reducing the resources wasted because blade servers aren't configured optimally for the applications they serve. "This evolution will simplify the provisioning of capacity to meet growing needs," Gartner states.

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