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Cloud forms slowly over data center

A survey of data center managers finds they haven't yet warmed up to cloud computing. Will the economy change that?

IT professionals attending Data Center World this week will hear a lot about budgets, virtualization, green computing and cloud computing – although not all of those topics are top of mind for those who run data centers.

A survey of some of the 4,300 members of AFCOM – an association of data center managers that sponsors Data Center World – found that budget cuts and virtualization are big issues for 2009, but cloud computing isn't yet.

In the survey conducted late last year, 49.4% of respondents said they expected budget decreases this year. The average decrease was 15.2%. Budget considerations may play a big role in what technologies get deployed in the data center. The survey found 86.2% of respondents planned to increase virtualization to reduce the number of servers in the data center. Cloud implementation was another story, as 77.3% said they did not expect to increase their use of cloud computing this year. When asked another way, the results were similar – 87.4% said they did not expect increased use of software as a service (SaaS) as an alternative to hosted applications.

When asked why they said "No" to the cloud, 49% of those surveyed said it was not applicable to their data center management strategy.

I have seen very few data center fresh starts that put SANs in the center of them. Instead, you see Ethernet-
or network-attached storage, and people start from there.

Greg Papadopoulos,
chief technology officerSun Microsystems Inc.
Still, data center admins at the conference will likely hear a lot about the cloud. AFCOM CEO Jill Eckhaus said she expects cloud computing to pick up once IT people learn more about it.

"I believe cloud computing will be huge within the next five years, but education is needed about what cloud computing is," she said. "I think our members still see it as a repackaging of old technology."

Sun Microsystems Inc. chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulos, who will give a keynote at Data Center World, also expects the cloud to take off soon.

"I think it's going to happen more quickly than you think," he said. "These types of changes typically take a long time, but economic conditions act as an accelerant here. You can go to cloud environments for less money than it takes you to do it yourself to get started. It gives you more flexibility with resources because you pay just for what you need."

Papadopoulos said another indication that the cloud will take off is that it's already become popular with application developers, and that popularity is bound to spread within an organization.

"We think it's super important how the developer's life has gotten easier with cloud computing," he said. "They go to a less-expensive cloud model, and that's acted as a catalyst for people looking at cloud computing. Every startup I see is just getting an account somewhere. They can go rent time on a public cloud, and they can scale it up if they become successful."

Other storage trends Papadopoulos sees for storage in the data center is virtualization and a move to Ethernet storage that could be accelerated by converged networks.

"[Fibre Channel] SANs play an important role today and will continue to, but I have seen very few data center fresh starts that put SANs in the center of them," he said. "Instead, you see Ethernet-attached or network-attached storage, and people start from there. We're also seeing the pendulum swinging back to direct-attached storage."

Papadopoulos and Eckhaus agree that green computing will continue to grow to reflect changes in designing data centers in the near future.

"We'll see more co-designing of data centers," Papadopoulos said. "Data center designs are being done simultaneously with server and storage/networking designs. It has to be a real partnership. We'll also see a substantial shift over the next couple of years to the view that the data center itself is going to be viewed as the computer. It has a lot of components in it, but it is the computer. And the design of physicals from power, cooling and cable management is all part of that large-scale computer design."

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