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What’s really driving data center consolidation

Jan 31, 20063 mins
Data Center

* Consolidation is needed to keep up with growth, not just cut costs

The undisputable trend across data centers is consolidation. Whether we look at servers or storage, or even the physical data center itself, consolidation is the top priority within most data centers. For some IT executives, consolidation is the top priority in IT overall.

The conventional wisdom is that consolidation is driven by cost control – reducing the number of servers or SAN islands leads to increased utilization and, therefore, cost savings.

But another, less noticed driver must be highlighted. The pace of growth of the various components in the data center has been accelerating. Without consolidation, most companies would run into serious capacity problems.

Take healthcare, for example. The transformation of analog media such as X-ray films into digital media is only one driver of growth in storage. Another important driver is the increase in resolution of digital-image systems. As with many other silicon-based technologies, medical imaging resolution (e.g., MRIs and CT scans) has been increasing at a rate that is comparable to Moore’s Law. And while gigantic medical devices are not updated as often as PCs, the impact on storage growth is significant. Three-dimensional digital imaging poses another challenge. Depending on the technology used, resolution may be doubling on each axis, leading to a higher exponent growth of the resulting 3-D image files. This trend is unlikely to slow in the near future. Nemertes Research has received preliminary reports of annual storage growth exceeding 200% in some healthcare organizations.

Healthcare is not the only industry facing such rapid growth. New technologies such as RFID have not yet had a broad impact on the growth of systems and storage, but RFID, like medical imaging, is likely to generate a torrent of data for retailers and manufacturers. Similarly, in the financial services industry, machine-to-machine interactions lead to a flood of data that must be backed up, logged and audited.

Consolidation of data centers, servers and storage is not just a cost-cutting exercise for companies. If it was, then you might expect the final result of consolidation to be fewer servers, fewer data centers and fewer storage silos. Instead, we have preliminary results showing that after three-year consolidation efforts, some companies have ended up with more mid-tier servers, more data centers and much bigger SAN deployments.

To accurately evaluate the results of consolidation, you must look at the change in resources in real terms, by factoring 100% or more growth in some of these systems. If you managed to aggressively consolidate all your resources over the last few years, your metric for success may just be “slower growth,” rather than actual reduction.

“Without aggressive consolidation we would have run out of space,” says the CTO of a financial-services company. Just as aggressive cost-cutting may temporarily offset price inflation in the financial markets, data center consolidation may be obscuring the true rate of data sprawl.