The late, great Yogi Berra was famous for sayings like: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” The secret to these “Yogi-isms” is that while they seem contradictory on the surface, they are accurate when viewed in the right context. Casual readers of the recent 451 Group report, Voice of the Enterprise: Datacenters, might find themselves in a similar predicament, trying to reconcile responses like “42% of organizations expect to increase spending on colocation” with “24% of enterprises expect to increase facility spending over the next 90 days.” The answer here, too, is context. If you step back from the individual statements and look at the big picture, there are some fundamental changes affecting data center technologies and driving usage dynamics in both enterprises and colocation.

Any data center discussion needs to start with the application availability/efficiency equation that runs in the background of every operator. For IT equipment, there are a couple of things going on:

  • Virtualization: Large scale increases in virtualization have enabled increased equipment and square footage efficiency, while also reducing dependence on any particular physical device. Not needing to worry about every device enables data centers to shift more weight toward the “efficiency” side of the ratio.
  • Wider Operating Envelopes: Simultaneously, the acceptable environmental operating envelope for IT equipment (especially servers) has widened considerably. Less strict temperature and humidity requirements open up a wider variety of facility equipment options, again shifting more weight toward “efficiency.”

The net result: decreasing square footage required for a unit of compute and increasing interest in efficiency driving the adoption of newer critical infrastructure technologies including:

  • Economization – Efficiency starts by minimizing energy consumed in cooling the data center, and the use of economizers is a great step. Traditionally this has been done using water, but there’s a growing interest in pumped refrigerant especially in areas where water is at a premium.
  • Outside Air – While more complex than opening a window, large-scale operations with highly virtualized loads are using very large units to move outside air to “directly” cool the data center. Air quality and data center size can impact usage decisions, but it’s a valid choice in the right circumstances.
  • Transformer-free UPS – While not providing the same level of maximum protection as a traditional transformer-based UPS, transformer-free UPS systems can achieve higher levels of maximum efficiency, and are becoming a popular option.

What does this mean for the enterprise? Fewer, smaller data centers in exchange for more, centralized and denser central centers that take advantage of newer techniques. For those who don’t want to spend the capital themselves, colocation is a good option. The 451 report pointed toward some trends there:

  • Growth – There’s no doubt about this trend: the total square footage in colocations grew 11% in Q1 15 and is expected to continue at this rate through 2018.
  • Fragmentation – There are more than 1,000 colocation providers globally, with only three used by more than 10%. This makes sense since colocation has traditionally been an alternative to building (or expanding) a local data center — and who better than a “mom & pop” provider?
  • Consolidation – To keep up with the drive for ever lower operating costs, a provider needs to be able to invest in the latest efficient equipment and leverage overhead through scale. Add the fact that loads are increasingly virtualized (often across centers) and local footprint becomes decidedly less important. It looks like the march toward consolidated, large, efficient centers will continue.

It appears that the same technology developments are driving some similar behaviors in both enterprise and colocation data centers. So what should you do? Speaking as the only provider the 451 report ranked as a leader in both power and cooling, here’s some advice:

  • Availability Matters, but Efficiency is King – Application infrastructure is more resilient now, giving you options to reduce operating costs through efficiency. These options require a ton of tradeoffs, so make sure you work with people who understand the entire IT and facility landscape.
  • Plan for a Dynamic Environment – No matter your strategy, you will probably have equipment in motion. Maintaining control over the inventory and operation of your infrastructure during change is vital to both availability and efficiency. Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) is essential in situations like this, and should be a consideration in your planning.

As Yogi would put it, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Change is a constant in IT, but if you can keep the changes in context you can find a stable path.