Thursday, April 30, 2009

Amid the Cassatt hubbub, data center efficiency projects stay front and center

All of this week's hubbub about Cassatt's future has certainly kept me plenty busy, but I thought I'd take a break from all that to publish some of the feedback we received about data center efficiency projects from our 2nd Annual Data Center Survey. Data center efficiency is a topic that's near and dear to our hearts, but is not always at the top of data center discussions (and in a week swirling with speculation, doubly so). Often it's the technology du jour that grabs the spotlight instead, even when the end goal is, in fact, to make things run better. Here's hoping we can help change that.

(Oh, and in case you're scouring this post for hints or tips about what's happening with Cassatt, I'll let you know up front that you're likely to be disappointed. Unless, of course, you manage to decode all of the many double-secret messages I've encrypted within this post. Riiiiight.)

You did a survey about data center efficiency? Why?

If there's one thing that I hope came through in the many discussions about Cassatt this week, it's that everything we do (and have done with the organizations we've worked with throughout our history) boils down to this: improving data center efficiency. The interesting thing is how fundamental optimizing data center operations is for a number of the topics that are front-and-center for IT today. Yes, we have products in this area, but that's not the only reason to focus here. Data center efficiency is a driver for cloud computing. It's at the core of the energy efficiency and green IT work. And it's something that the economic downturn is demanding of IT departments.

Now, I'm not claiming we knew how serious and prolonged the recession would be when we were coming up with our survey questions, but now actually seems like an ideal time to talk about data center optimization. And our numbers support this: only 5.5% of our responders said they aren't pursuing a data center efficiency project.

So, with that in mind, here are some of the interesting things for the other 94.5% of you that we unearthed when talking to data center managers in our database:

Data centers: where everyone is "above average"

It's always fun to ask questions you know are going to lead to amusing results. When we asked how people rate their data center(s) in terms of IT operations efficiency, 41.2% said they were "average," 38.5% said "better than average," and 7% said "very efficient." That leaves only a little more than 10% who admitted they were "worse than average" or "poor."

OK, folks, maybe this whole conversation should start with a session on how to honestly assess where you are. Everyone obviously listens to too much Garrison Keillor. Having seen this "overestimation" problem in a lot of end user IT departments, we created a profiling service to help provide customers accurate baselines for improving operations. And so IT wouldn't have to rely on their gut feel that they're "doing pretty well." You're probably not.

So, what data center efficiency projects are going on in IT?

Definitely virtualization. And virtualization. Oh, and virtualization. That (and server consolidation) accounted for 42.4% of the data center efficiency projects underway. A few data center consolidation (12.7%) and energy efficiency (11.8%) projects were thrown in for good measure. (By the way, we have some '09 energy efficiency project data that I'll post later alongside a comparison with last year's survey results on that topic).

This trend toward data center consolidation was underscored in a separate question in which almost three-quarters of the respondents said they were moving toward fewer, more efficient data centers. But there are exceptions. 16% are actually expanding the number of data centers they are using. Some of the audience polls at the December Gartner Data Center Conference showed similar trends -- in both directions. One size definitely doesn't fit all.

Everything isn't going to be virtualized, though

I previously posted a bunch of the virtualization-specific survey results that we received. Here's one additional bit of data: exactly how pervasive will or won't virtualization eventually be? 4% of the respondents expect to virtualize 100% of their server environment, while another 26% figured they'd be between 75% and 100% virtualized.

The interesting answer, though, is the one at the bottom end of the scale: despite all of the in-roads virtualization is making (and it is everywhere, there's no denying it), 41% of data center managers we talked to said they would be virtualizing less than half of their servers. There was even a stodgy 6% saying they won't be virtualizing at all, thank you very much. I'd say that a big chunk of responders know what they're talking about, too, from actual virtualization experience: 43% have completed some virtualization projects, but still have more to do. These numbers continue to tell me that heterogeneous physical and virtual resources will remain the norm in big, enterprise data centers.

Why pursue a data center efficiency project? Economics, but not the economy

When we asked why folks were working on data center efficiency, one of the options was "current economic conditions." I figured this would be one of the big drivers. Who wouldn't at this point? In fact, it was not. The biggest reason for a data center efficiency project was that "there will be specific economic benefit, regardless of external economic conditions" (so said 35.8%). That implies that these data center efficiency projects are not a short-term fad, but in fact, likely to be an on-going activity. The only way to really tell will be to ask the question again in next year's survey. I'm hoping we get the chance to ask, one way or another.

The second biggest reason (32.1%) was capacity constraints on IT infrastructure (power, space, etc.). This matches what we've seen from our customers and prospects. The ones with the most urgency have consistently been the ones coming to us searching for a solution -- sometimes temporary, sometimes more permanent -- to a data center capacity issue (one organization wasn't able to add even a single additional server to a specific facility because they were out of electrical capacity). Only a little over 12% answered the "why" question by saying they were reacting to a bit of organizational arm-twisting, in the form of a corporate mandate to improve data center efficiency. Looks like many don't need that kind of incentive from above. They know an important issue when they see it.

Anything else worth noting…like, say, cloud computing?

And since no self-respecting data center survey would be complete without asking cloud computing questions, I'll post the answers we received on that topic shortly as well. No matter how things end up with Cassatt, I figure that continuing to post this data (you can see previous posts from the past few weeks here and here) could provide some useful insights for IT ops and the industry at large.

And keep the dialog going.

P.S. If you're looking for some more interesting data center (in)efficiency statistics, James Governor over at RedMonk passed on some dramatic ones from IBM that I link to here. For starters, 78% of data centers were built before the dotcom era, and one of James' sources figures supply chain waste from data center inefficiency is around $40 billion. More fuel for the fire showing why these projects are so important for data center operations.

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