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IT experts predicted what 2014 would bring to the data center, but they weren't always on the money.
We looked back at 2014's data center trends and forecasts, and compared them to end-of-year reports. Some were in the ballpark, while others were way off.
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All data center systems spending was expected to grow 0.4% in 2014, according to the Gartner Worldwide IT Spending Forecast. Actual growth for the year was a little higher at 0.8%, with total data center spending up $1 billion from 2013 (reaching $141 billion). So where did the money go?
Experts expected the x86 server market to experience the most growth in 2014. The most recent data from Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. shows an increase in x86 server unit purchases in the first three quarters, averaging 1.4% growth quarterly over the same span in 2013. In contrast, unit sales of RISC/Itanium Unix servers declined an average of 11.6% in the same period, as enterprises migrate from high-cost platforms toward lower-cost alternatives. Numbers from Q4 have not been released.
Rise of the third platform
The convergence of cloud, big data, social business and mobile -- the third platform -- got a slow start, said Matt Eastwood, group vice president and general manager of enterprise platforms at analyst firm IDC. Traditional enterprises just weren't quick to make this data center transformation.
"There are three types of businesses: the businesses that think of technology as their business [like Google]; more traditional businesses that think technology is a strategic differentiation; and businesses that think technology is an enabler," Eastwood said. "[This last group] is three to five years behind [the first]."
Consumer behavior and mobile drove the onset of the platform conversion, as expected.
The year of colocation
Clive Longbottom, co-founder and service director at analyst firm Quocirca, based in the U.K., predicted that 2014 would involve an owned or colocation data center working beside infrastructure, platform and software-as-a-service markets -- and that came to fruition.
Colocation became a $5 billion industry at the start of 2013, but is projected to hit $30 billion by 2017, according to Synergy Research Group.
Moving to a colocation facility makes more sense than staying on-premises or pushing capacity wholly into cloud, Longbottom said, leading to this big colocation growth. The hybrid-cloud model manages resources in-house and via a colocation facility and combines all three deployment types.
"A vast majority of vendors in 2013 were fighting the hybrid model," Longbottom said. "But we saw a lot more of them embracing this throughout 2014."
Companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook spent billions of dollars on new facilities and server infrastructure to power their workloads in 2013 and 2014.
"Hyperscale represents 30% of computing in the world," Eastwood said. He expects investment in Webscale and hyperscale data centers to grow by 20% in the next four to five years.
Pressure from hyperscale IT companies was expected to drive server types, variety and complexity in 2014, and this change is occurring.
Companies began to build their own servers and forced manufacturers to reevaluate what they needed to refresh, said David Cappuccio, managing VP and chief of research on infrastructure at Gartner.
The movement of SDx
The software-defined everything (SDx) movement made most IT trend watchlists in 2014.
"We've seen people starting to realize some evolution of tools on the server side and applying the same tenants to hardware," said Pete Sclafani, CIO of 6connect Inc., a data center consulting firm in Palo Alto, Calif.
Vendors got on the software-defined product train in 2014.
"Software-defined everything is coming from every single vendor, even vendors who don't sell these kinds of products," Longbottom said.
For the most part, however, SDx remained a lab concept in 2014, not a real mainstream data center technology.
Converging upon CI
"In 2014, converged infrastructure [CI] became the go-to alternative to standalone systems," said Christian Perry, senior analyst and content manager at Technology Business Research (TBR) Inc., in Hampton, N.H.
While experts predicted that CI would go mainstream in 2014, Perry said that the method of integrating compute, storage and networking for data centers was mainstream in the year prior, and that meaningful adoption began well before 2013.
TBR's research found that from 2013 to 2014, the opportunity for CI adoption was $3.8 billion in the U.S. That number will jump seven to eight billion dollars in the U.S. between 2014 and 2015, and total $17.8 billion in the global market, TBR reports.
"Customers are excited about their environments and doing IT in a different way," Perry said.
But IT shops that adopted CI didn't necessarily replace legacy infrastructure. TBR reports that 35% of U.S. companies still run the bulk of enterprise workloads on legacy data center infrastructures, complementing it with converged systems for new projects and workloads. In the U.S., about 27% of converged infrastructure users replaced existing systems with the new technology; 38% do a bit of both.
Limited adaptability was one of the concerns about CI in 2014, a danger that depends on the use case.
"Systems aren't deployed to handle all workloads," Perry said, with the exception of VCE's VBlock. If converged systems are purchased for specific workloads, then it's not limited, he said.
All about the data
Data generation shows no signs of slowing, according to an IDC study, spurring more big data storage and analytics in 2014. The abundance of data led the data center into a storage spin.
The price of solid state drives (SSDs) decreased in 2014, Sclafani said, and the price drop provides more quick storage expansion options for data centers.
But in the next two years, expect to see a broader strategy around solid state storage, Sclafani said.
In 2014, IT pros saw hybrid local-storage options -- some hard disk and some solid state -- as a budget-friendly way to tackle data storage and retrieval speed. But hybrid storage would have been even more popular if SSDs had been more expensive, Sclafani said. Tiered/hybrid is still in the running, but now you can put more data on SSDs without busting the budget, making them more desirable for the data center.
Enterprise SSD use was strong in 2014, and flash prices stayed weak after dramatic drops in 2013, according to DRAMeXchange, a research division of TrendForce Corp., a company that tracks memory technologies.
"In the coming year, the price will drop more against consumer technology," Sclafani said. "People are negotiating harder for SSDs because they know the benefits and the price comparisons."