New technologies mean changes in data centers, Gartner says

Its list of 'disruptive' developments includes unified communications, virtualization

Automation may continue to reduce the ranks of data center workers, but unified communications technology will make it easier for IT staffers to stay in touch with whoever else survives the ax, according to Gartner.

The consulting firm, which is holding its annual data center conference in Las Vegas this week, released a list of the Top 10 "disruptive technologies" that are affecting data centers. Topping the list were items such as unified communications, software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and tools for automating IT operations processes.

The technologies highlighted this week were almost identical to those on a list presented by Gartner analysts at the firm's Symposium/ITxpo conference in Orlando last month. That list was pegged as a collection of Gartner's Top 10 strategic technologies for 2008.

Eight technologies were included on both lists, although in varying orders: unified communications, SaaS and other Web platforms, virtualization, metadata management, mashups and composite applications, "social software," green IT, and server-based computing fabrics.

Unique to the data center list were configuration management databases and automation tools. Meanwhile, the earlier list included business process management and the "Real World Web," a term that Gartner used to describe ubiquitous access to networks via mobile devices.

Unified communications involves a combination of IP telephony, e-mail, instant messaging and video conferencing. Carl Claunch, a Gartner analyst who spoke at the conference, said that only about 20 percent of enterprise users have migrated to IP telephony thus far. But a majority of organizations will have implemented it within three years, he predicted.

Claunch added that the unified communications push won't include only person-to-person messaging tools. Video feeds and data from sensors and analytical applications may also be part of the mix at companies, he said.

Data center staffers will also see big changes because of virtualization technology, including the ability to aggregate several smaller servers to look like a bigger one, according to Claunch.

Virtualization now is primarily used to run multiple operating systems on a single hardware platform, whereas the aggregation capability that Claunch described would enable users to trick a single operating system into thinking it was running across, say, 32 processors in a single box. "Today, you only have half a tool," he said.

Claunch's assessment of virtualization's potential rang true for David Salbego, manager of Unix and operations services at the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Ill.

"I think it's going to be even bigger than it is today," Salbego said, referring to virtualization. "Suddenly, the operating system is no longer a barrier to how you manage things."

Chris Orzen, an engineer at communication products distributor Anixter International, said that as he listened to Claunch's forecast of increased adoption of unified communications technologies, he was thinking about the implications for cabling within enterprises. With all of the required "condensing," many companies should be able to pare their cables down to "a single-trunk fiber," Orzen said.

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