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Data center uptime pressure mounts as IoT takes hold

Don your foil hats: A practical futurist explains how electromagnetic pulses and IoT will impact IT infrastructure by 2020 and just how high data center uptime pressure will be.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Data center uptime is expected to be the top priority in the economy of the 2020s, when Internet-connected devices and data become as important as electricity.

"For data centers, the idea that you need to be perfect will not be far from the truth," practical futurist Michael Rogers told IT pros here at Dell World this week.

IT pros and data center managers must think now about what the economy will demand from them in the early 2020s, and "every decision you make needs to head to that point on the horizon," he said.

To get a sense of the technologies that will demand nonstop data center uptime in 2024 -- nine years in the future -- take a look back nine years.

In 2006, there was no iPhone; Facebook had 50,000 members, all with .edu addresses; YouTube launched, but analysts thought would it would never last because it was being sued by Hollywood studios; and a 24-inch LCD television cost $3,000.

The growing data center demand will come from employees and customers who are connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, either by devices or connected things. And those connected things will be more powerful than ever. For example, the compute power of a midsize business server today will be inside an iPhone in 2022, Rogers said.

"Predictive support" will be the key to maintaining data center uptime, said Jim Roth, executive director of the Services Solutions Group at Dell. He said it is already in production in Dell's PC support business, where the company has predicted the failure of a laptop's hard drive before it happens.

"We will be asking data centers to provide the type of reliability power plants provide -- only more so," Rogers said.

We will be asking data centers to provide the type of reliability power plants provide -- only more so.
Michael Rogerspractical futurist

The increased presence of screens will also tax data centers. For example, convenience stores pilot technology that uses screens next to cash registers, with facial and clothes recognition -- determining if it is one of five classes of people the business identifies as customers -- and serves up a customized ad.

"By the early [20]20s, there will be screens everywhere," Rogers said.

The government will also fuel further demands for perfect data center uptime, as it increasingly sees high-speed Internet as important as the federal highway systems and rural electrification in past generations.

By 2022, high-speed broadband access will be "everywhere, all the time." And by the early 2020s, parents will have to teach kids what it means to be offline.

"For kids, to lose Internet connection will be more serious than losing power," Rogers said, adding that many items will be battery powered.

The increasing prevalence of Internet of Things applications -- including the growing "smart home" market and the predictive analytics that come along with it -- will put increased demands on the data center.

"These things will be part of the data center of the future," Rogers said.

Michael Rogers, futurist
Michael Rogers, a futurist, speaks on data centers during Dell World.

What is the greatest threat to data centers in the future that may be overlooked today? Electromagnetic pulses. "Nobody really understands what electromagnetic pulses at very high levels will do," he said.

As a weapon, the possibility of electromagnetic pulses being used against a data center is a "very small probability," and more realistically, security continues to pose a top risk to uptime, he said.

The demands on the data center will also come from other changes in the workforce, including a shift from traditional, manpower-intensive work to more automation at all levels, including white-collar jobs. For example, e-discovery software allows lawyers to search evidence in legal cases to find those relevant to their trials -- something that used to be done by legions of legal staff pouring through boxes of papers for weeks.

"That kind of intelligence is going to be part of every business and that will be brought to bear on the functioning of a data center," Rogers said.

That same highly automated work could influence the IT workforce itself. But Rogers said IT pros in the data center shouldn't worry about their job going away anytime soon, noting the large number of things they may have on a to-do list.

"As we automate some of the basic tasks in the data center, you will have time to do those [other] things," he said.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure, and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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