The changing face of the datacentre

31 Jan 2012

In February and November 2011, Quocirca carried out research amongst large (>$100m revenues) and very large (>$1b revenues) organisations around the world to better understand what they were doing when it came to addressing the changing needs of the business through investments in their datacentres.  The research was carried out on behalf of Oracle, and the full report on the findings can be downloaded free of charge here.

When the research is cross-referenced, it shows how small changes are leading to a far better overall technical platform.  Although each change in itself does not seem to be major, the aggregation of the changes is providing the business with higher levels of systems availability.  This is based on small changes in the capacity for organisation to control patching and upgrading of systems and applications, fewer systems outages and less impact through individual IT component failure through better architecting of the overall platform.

However, one of the more interesting findings is around virtualisation.  When looking at the press, vendor information and analyst reports, it would be easy to feel that virtualisation is a done deal for the majority of organisations.  However, figure 1 shows that this is by no means the case.

Although between February (Cycle I) and November (Cycle II) 2011, the numbers of those having minimal (<10%) virtualisation had fallen from 25% to 13%, the numbers with more than 50% of their servers virtualised had only grown from 31% to 34% - hardly the ubiquitous virtualisation many would have us believe has happened. 

However, when this is compared with stated server utilisation rates, it appears that the average utilisation rate has increased by around 5% across the board.  By this, Quocirca means that those who previously stated a 50% server utilisation rate were now running at a 55% rate – a 10% improvement.  For those who previously stated a 10% utilisation rate, however, this was now a 15% rate – a 50% improvement.

The impact of this combination of virtualisation and better server utilisation rates can have a deep impact on the datacentre itself.  Firstly, a 50% improvement in utilisation rates can lower the amount of servers required, enabling equipment to be deprovisioned, which then means that less energy is required to power the remaining servers and less cooling may well be required to maintain the datacentre within safe working temperatures.  On top of this, fewer operating system and application licences will be required – and fewer technical staff to manage the whole environment.

Another aspect of this incremental growth of virtualisation is a concomitant growth in heterogeneity of IT platform.  During the 1990s, there was a move to try and attain a homogeneous platform in order to simplify what was under management.  Now, with virtualisation allowing an abstraction of the virtual from the physical platform, the research shows that organisations are moving back to choosing physical platforms through how they support technical workloads, and are then using common application server platforms in order to create a cohesive overall environment. This is also leading to increased use of common systems management tools that enable faster root cause analysis and problem resolution.

Another finding is around the use of external datacentre facilities, both through co-location and public cloud services.  The use of external facilities where it makes sense, combined with the planned introduction of higher density systems as existing equipment ages as part of an IT lifecycle management (ITLM) strategy,  can avoid the need for the build of a new datacentre, so saving the business not only hard cash, but also the impact of a major forklift upgrade from one datacentre platform to another.

It is apparent that even under highly constrained financial conditions, IT is going through some small but fundamental changes in how it is being positioned to support the organisation dependent upon it.  There does not appear as yet to be a virtualisation or cloud computing revolution in progress – but there does seem to be slow but positive progress in moving towards a more dynamic, highly available technical platform to support the business.

Clive Longbottom, Service Director, Business Process Analysis, Quocirca

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