Five years ago, a conference addressing the future of the data centre would have raised some interesting issues. In those days, at the height of the dot-com frenzy, many companies were ordering new servers by the gross but, although these ‘commodity' machines were inexpensive to buy, it soon became plain that they were very far from being inexpensive to own.
Indeed, had the Information Age Future of the Data Centre conference been held in 2000, pressures which might have been discussed include : how can we provision new servers in a timely and cost effective way; how can we manage them more effectively; where will we find the skilled staff we need to do this; where can we find the space to keep them; and, most urgently of all, when are we ever going to be able to align our server requirements against our real business needs, without having to buy three times more capacity than we will ever really need?
Well, five years later, the Information Age Future of the Data Centre 2005 conference was still asking most of the same questions. The difference this time around is that, unlike in 2000, some of these questions have already been answered, and real progress is being made towards addressing those that have yet to be solved.
Today, in fact, widespread server consolidation has already reined in the spiralling maintenance costs that threatened to bankrupt data centre operators five years ago; virtualisation technology and its ally, blade computing, are beginning to answer the provisioning and capacity issues; and, if its proponents are correct, new systems automation technology will soon begin to have a similarly profound effect on our ability to dynamically map our physical data centre resources to the logical demands of our business.
Once, it looked as if corporate data centres were destined to become mausoleums for the legacy systems of an earlier era. Today, it is fair to say, the data centre is once again a centre for innovation.
But that innovation has a price. Once the burgeoning mass of servers in the data centre meant that estate costs were a significant factor. Today's data centres are more compact, but that has introduced its own challenges: power and cooling are now significant constraints on data centre design.