The Next-Generation Data Center

Someone suggested “the next-generation data center” to me as a topic for an upcoming panel discussion. Here are my thoughts on the subject.

After doing a little research, I have come to the conclusion that the phrase “next-generation data center” is more of a marketing term than anything else. The definition depends on the audience. Hardware manufacturers like IBM, Dell, HP, and Cisco would be the first to tell you that their latest and greatest hardware product releases will help to usher in the next-generation data centers. Software development companies would contest that the software they are developing is what will guide the way to the next-generation data center. I believe it will be both. The next-generation data center will be more about philosophy and execution and less about the specific hardware or software used in it.

When it comes to the hardware used for compute, storage, and network, I believe the industry is in the middle of fundamental change in overall design. Hyperconvergence will be the primary type of infrastructure deployed moving forward. Hyperconvergence is a type of infrastructure that is built on a software-centric architecture that is purpose-built to tightly integrate the three main pillars of the data center—compute, storage and networking—and is managed and controlled by vendor-provided software. Currently, the hardware providers are bundling and preconfiguring the hardware and software into a single instance. I am on the fence about whether hyperconverged systems of the future will remain specific vendor-locked bundles, or whether the future will bring about different mix-and-match sets of hybrid-converged systems made up of products from different providers. My gut tells me that hardware vendors will work very hard to retain tight control over the bundling. After all, the OEM usually has the best software products available to manage its own systems; I believe that trend will continue in the future.

Moving on, software is going to be key in any next-generation data center. Hyperconvergence brings control of the different hardware pieces and layers together under a single control plane. Similarly, the software-defined data center (SDDC) will be a logical layer that offers control of all the different hardware convergences in a single control plane.

Since a good number of companies are utilizing multiple data centers, it makes sense for some kind of data center operating system (DCOS) to be the underlying layer that the SDDC runs on top of. This would be the spanning control layer between different data centers that manages enterprise-level polices, resources, and users as well as power, cooling, and other data center physical plant aspects.

Before I move on to one of my favorite aspects of the next-generation data center—automation—I need to spend a moment on the technological glue that binds all the aspects of SDDC, DCOS, automation, and orchestration together: the application program interface (API). The API is what will tie all the different platforms together seamlessly. You can automate without having to utilize any APIs, but you cannot provide any meaningful orchestration without the use of APIs. As a matter of fact, I believe that APIs will be the cornerstone of the next-generation data center, and working with and between APIs will be the skill that is most necessary to work in the next-generation data centers. The orchestration engineers will utilize APIs to bring the different technologies together, and as such will create the data center in the future.

Once the connectivity of the different platforms is in place, the automation will quickly follow. That automation will include different concepts from self-service platforms and self-healing systems to, of course, robotics and hardware automation. Add to that artificial intelligence (AI), which I believe will be the driving logic behind the different types of automation.

In closing, it is pretty clear to me that the next-generation data center is not just one specific thing or another, but rather a compilation of many things that will be tied together with APIs and eventually managed not by people, but by software AI. The future is change, and that change is happening now. What will a next-generation data center look like in your environment?


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