Is the data centre facing extinction?

Author:Keenan, Roger

Enterprise data centres, government data centres, commercial data centres and colocation houses have seen a massive expansion over the last ten years or so. Every organisation in the world uses more computing power today than it did five years ago and five years ago used more than it did ten years ago. Even small children who can barely walk use more computing power. Is there any end? And how can the world cope with the space and electrical power that all this computing needs?

Over the last decade, the server/client concept has migrated from larger organisations down to the point where most organisations of more than just a few people have a server holding their shared files and data and multiple desktop or laptop computers to access them. VPN's and mobile smartphones have become the norm, with remote access to all sorts of facilities no-one would ever have dreamed of a few years ago. Many enterprises and organisations have coped with this by building their own server rooms. Many have put the servers in a cupboard-under-the-stairs server room, plugged them into the mains and hoped it would all be all right. Others have built out mini enterprise data centres to semi-professional standards. Most are very inefficient in terms of their resilience, their efficiency of utilisation of electrical power and their utilisation of available space.

A changing world

The world is changing. Technology continues to change at a ferocious rate. Moore's law states that computing power at constant price doubles every eighteen months, and that has been true since Intel designed the first 4004 chip in 1978. Things which were inconceivable are commonplace, and the size of the gate on a CMOS transistor inside a modern integrated circuit is now only eight atoms wide and can change state at over six thousand million transitions per second (ie a 3GHz clock). Twenty years ago, people would have said that was impossible and thirty years ago no-one would even have imagined it possible.

Many computer applications are straightforward uses of pieces of commercial software. Whereas there used to be a need for the organisation to have the servers that ran it in-house, the availability of high-quality high-bandwidth communications means that cloud computing has become a reality (but only for those who are securely connected to a fast, reliable communications backbone). Now, applications that needed to run on the in-house server to attain a consistent speed of response that...

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