During the research for this issue of Information Age, an executive gave his view on how he would like to see the data centre of the future managed. "The data centre," he said, "should be staffed by a man and a dog. The man is there to feed the dog. The dog is there to bite the man if he tries to touch the computers".
For as long as most of us can remember, the data centre has required human management and persistent manual intervention. People can be unpredictable, slow, error-prone and unreliable. And they are always expensive.
At one time, this was just part of the deal. Automation rapidly sped up processes such as payroll, and having a few operators to ‘muck out' the computer, organising the batch runs and loading the tapes was all costed in.
That has all changed. Now, many if not most business processes are customer-facing, and slow corporate reaction times show up, sooner or later, on the profit and loss account. Systems need to be rapidly provisioned, applications changed or installed quickly, easily addressable storage added regularly, new regulations conformed to, or there is trouble.
Almost every CIO we speak to has a story of their struggles to meet these challenges. In almost every case, it is a story of mounting complexity, expense and frustration. Estimates suggest that nearly three quarters of the IT spend goes on managing the applications and infrastructure.
Now the good news: the innovators have the answer. New technologies are set to shake up the data centre. Blade servers are replacing unmanageable and bulky distributed machines; the virtualisation of processing and storage systems means they can be quickly redeployed to meet demand; new service-oriented management and provisioning tools will give operational power to the business managers; and autonomic management software will solve many operational problems before they occur.
Early success stories are showing dramatic improvements in utilisation, maintenance costs and business agility. Data centres are not as sexy or as visible as the Internet in its early days – this is serious, back-room technology – but there are similarities. As ever, there is some hype about the technologies and their impact, but the message is clear: IT is about to take another big step forward.
Editor: Kenny MacIver