It’s no secret that the modern information technology department is undergoing one of the most significant redesigns since perhaps the introduction of the personal computer. So, when all is said and done, what will the organizational data center of the future look like?

Highly Virtualized

The first observation we will likely make in this not-too-distant future is that data centers will be almost completely virtualized. In fact, short of perhaps a few key domain controllers that are best kept on physical machines, there is nothing that can’t—or won’t—be implemented in a virtual machine.

Because of the high density of virtualization, almost everything will be running in fault-tolerant modes and be highly responsive to performance impacts. Machines will be automagically moved among hosts to continually maximize their performance capacity. The days of uttering phrases such as, “the mail server is down,” or hearing complaints such as, the intranet server is slow,” will be long gone.

These virtualization environments will also be characterized by two key infrastructure components. First, they will consist of a diversity of hypervisors, some chosen for cost differentials, others because of their particular specializations to a service. Second, the environments will be split between on-premise systems and multiple public cloud providers. The “hybrid cloud” will be the norm.

A New Breed of Staff

A second observation we’ll make involves how data centers will be staffed. First and foremost, there will be a much higher ratio of machines to humans, and the humans will have much broader areas of responsibility. They will also require advanced skillsets beyond those held by the majority of today’s IT pros. For example, the role of the data center administrator will shift away from today’s largely clerical function and will be more focused on management, optimization and diagnosis of data center operations.

In addition, the traditional distinctions between the duties found among today’s IT pros will be blurred, perhaps to the point they cannot even be distinguished at all. This includes both the server verses desktop distinction—as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) will be the preferred methodology for delivering computing services to end users—as well as the network verses systems distinction, which will be altered as the result of two significant trends.

The first of these will be the evolution of network configuration management into the realm of software defined networking (SDN). SDN is the tool that will facilitate the hybrid cloud environments and make the physical location of systems and data truly transparent to the end user. The second will be the requirement for traditional systems administrators to fully understand the implications of networking infrastructure, as the majority of network infrastructures will shift from external devices (e.g. routers and switches) to hypervisor hosts as processes and services.

Sophisticated Monitoring Solutions

Finally, the only way all these changes truly come to fruition will be if a very sophisticated monitoring infrastructure is in place; one that will allow IT pros to eliminate the mundane administrative tasks being performed manually today. Less critical issues will be handled by automated responses implemented by scripts and other executable programs designed to respond to known and predictable scenarios. The monitoring software will also automate the processing of performance data, and call IT pros’ attention to situations that expressly require the involvement of a human being.

More significantly perhaps, the monitoring infrastructure will present fully integrated end-to-end viewpoints, so IT pros can start at the top of the stack (applications), the bottom of the stack (data storage) or somewhere in the middle and traverse in any direction. It will leverage visual presentation of the entire infrastructure correlated in real-time, allowing the diagnosis of an end user reported issue in minutes rather than the hours or days sometimes required in today’s environments.

In a nutshell, the data center of the future will be a very busy, highly sophisticated environment that is managed by professionals with a diverse set of advanced technological skills. I for one am very excited about what the future holds.