IT Simplified: The data center of the future

what wil the data center of the future look like

We have much to look forward to from the data center of the future.

We can’t talk about the data center of the future without first taking a look back at the recent past. Who would have thought, back in 2003, that a mere 10 years later we would have hundreds of server instances running on a single server? Who would have foreseen back then that, by now, we’d all be walking around with handheld devices that give us access to everything, including seeing each other as we speak.  Well, it could be argued that Chester Gould did back in 1946 when he created Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio, which was upgraded to TV in 1964. Alan Kay certainly did back in 1972 when he first described the Dynabook.

For most of us, though, the advances we’ve seen in end-user devices and data center technology over the past 20 years seem nothing short of miraculous.

This makes looking ahead another 10 years for a glimpse of the data center of the future a great deal of fun, albeit somewhat perilous. The introduction of disruptive new information technology solutions — such as advanced servers, storage or communications tools — could easily render all prognostications null and void.  Financial, political and other pressures as yet unseen may influence the next wave of development in ways we cannot predict.

That said, we can still have some fun, and begin valuable discussions, by observing how we’ve arrived at where we are today, and how we may proceed to toward the data center of the future.

The data center of the future will be user-centric

It’s very tempting, when speaking about data centers, to completely leave out any discussion of the users. Yet, more and more technology professionals are starting their plans by considering the user, their business requirements, and the availability of the applications needed to satisfy them.  This is a positive trend that will shape the data center of the future in the next 10 years, and beyond.

We have recently witnessed the beginning of what will be a form-factor battle that looks likely to play out over a very short period of time. The desktop computer has given way to the laptop computer, which is now giving way to the tablet, which is quietly giving way to the mini-tablet and, ultimately, the handheld or smartphone device. Smaller and lighter is obviously better to the highly mobile traveling businessperson who needs to get work done at all times, wherever they are.  Sure, a handheld makes a great communications device, but can you actually use one to author documents, analyze spreadsheets, conduct presentations and perform other complex business functions?

Increasingly, the answer to that question is “yes.”  Wireless keyboards make it possible to “type as usual” on your smartphone. Voice recognition is rapidly improving and may eventually replace the keyboard as the input device of choice.

Even the smallest handheld will eventually give way to wearable devices that are now being introduced.  Far beyond Dick Tracy’s Wrist-TV, these devices will allow us to view screens full of data, video, or any other information types we need to consume.  Over time, keyboards will give way to eye-movement devices, such as those employed by Stephen Hawking to operate his computer. We’ll see other no-hands input methodologies arise.

The next step beyond wearable interfaces will be subcutaneous. Yes, you read that right. Essentially, we will carry no devices and still be able to interact with the network in any way we choose.  Implants will connect directly to our visual and auditory cortexes. This is the ultimate in direct connect.

The data center of the future will involve utility computing

Ten years from now, we’ll all be joking about those early days when we called everything “cloud.”

Before we started calling everything “cloud,” many tech observers foresaw the age of “utility computing.” These prognosticators were drawing a direct parallel between the generation of electrical power, the access to telephone services and the future direction of information technologies.

“Cloud” has successfully introduced the concept that servers, storage, and other processing infrastructure do not need to reside on the clients’ premises. In fact, it’s far more cost-effective to share infrastructure with others, and thus achieve economies of scale that reduce expenses dramatically.

In 10 years, we will be plugging into the network just as we do into air conditioners and phones. We won’t have special names for the datacenter of the future. Those who actually have their own servers on premises will be the elite who can afford such luxuries. When we need more storage, we’ll just subscribe to it online. In fact, we likely won’t even think about it. When we generate more data, our account will automatically obtain more storage and advise us of a change in our bill.

Even now, many industry analysts are reporting that data centers are becoming larger but fewer. Within 10 years, there will be a few enormous data center providers and perhaps a few corporate diehards who choose to keep it in-house. Competitive pressures will eventually drive them out of business, or into one of the behemoth data center providers.

Bottom line:  If you’re a large or midsized company, then years from now you won’t have a data center of your own. You’ll be a resident in one of the biggies.

The data center of the future will automating the autonomic

Since you probably won’t have your own data center to worry about, your maintenance and support concerns will all but evaporate. Of course, you’ll still need user support. But the infrastructure will, by and large, take care of itself.

One of the powerful things we’re seeing in network and systems management technology today is automation of most “autonomic” functions. This will be a given within 10 years.  Networks will become as reliable as dial tones.

In the data center of the future, big data gets bigger

Information will continue to explode, and the completed transition to IPv6 Internet addressing will mean we have plenty of address space to cover each and every device and each and every server instance on each and every virtualized server (which, by the way, we won’t call “virtualized” anymore; it will just be a server). A server running one instance will be a puzzling conundrum.

As we collect more and more data points, and perform more and more analysis on all of it, the questions will be: What does all of this do to us as people? Will we become smarter, wiser, more insightful, better able to deal with the realities around us? Will we put an end to war, political infighting, partisanship, and class warfare?

Here’s hoping.

The data center of the future needs visionaries

No prediction for the future of technology would be complete without mentioning two visionaries, at least one of which will surprise you.

The first is Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel.  Moore’s Law stated that the number of transistors on a chip would double every two to two-and-a-half years. This has been extrapolated to suggest that technology will double in capability every two years or so. Some analysts have said this pace has slowed, while others argue that such technological change is about to start accelerating at a blinding pace.

The second, and perhaps the more surprising one, is Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, his “Gunsmoke to the Stars.” Roddenberry predicted amazing leaps in technology.  Some have already been achieved. Some are closer than we think.

Ten years from now we’ll still be doing what we’re doing, and we’ll look back at visionaries such as Gordon Moore, Gene Roddenberry, Robert Metcalfe, Marc AndreessenSir Tim Berners-Lee, Alan Kay, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, among many others.  How will we score in our prognosticating accuracy compared to these incredible contributors?  We’ll soon see.

About the Author

Howard M. Cohen is a contributor to, a UBM Tech community.

Howard M. Cohen
Howard M. Cohen has over 30 years of IT channel executive experience and now consults, presents, and writes extensively on IT topics including virtualization, infrastructure, cloud, and management. He has written previously for VARBusiness, Redmond Channel Partner, eWeek, Microsoft, Citrix, Cisco, IBM, CA, Dell, Verisign, Ingram Micro, and many top solution providers.
Howard M. Cohen
Tags: Cloud Computing,Data Center,Technology,Virtualization