Changing IT needs will drive more enterprises away from in-house data centers to off-site facilities in coming years, according to a new forecast from the analyst firm IDC. The future will also see a rise in super-size "mega datacenters," leading to a decline in the overall number of data centers around the world even as total data center space keeps growing, the report stated.
According to the IDC forecast, released earlier this week, the total number of data centers will peak at 8.6 million in 2017 and then start to decline. However, total data center space will increase globally, rising from 1.58 billion square feet in 2013 to 1.94 billion square feet by 2018.
The shift in the data center environment is being driven by rapidly accelerating data volumes and the need for increasingly flexible computing resources, according to IDC. As organizations look for ways to harness big data and stay competitive in a fast-paced, global economy, more and more are turning to off-site, managed and cloud-based IT services to help keep up.
Rise of the 'Mega Data Center'
"Over the next five years, a majority of organizations will stop managing their own infrastructure," said Richard Villars, IDC's Vice President for Datacenter and Cloud Research. "They will make greater use of on-premise and hosted managed services for their existing IT assets, and turn to dedicated and shared cloud offerings in service provider data centers for new services. This will result in the consolidation and retirement of some existing internal data centers, particularly at the low end."
Providers of outsourced data center services, in the meantime, will see growing demand for managed, colocation and cloud-based services. This will contribute to the continuing growth of mega data centers.
According to IDC, mega data centers will account for 72.6 percent of all the new floor space being added by service providers by 2018. By that time, mega data centers will also be providing 44.6 percent of the world's new high-end data center space, compared to 19.3 percent in 2013.
Not all organizations, however, are expected to migrate to off-site data centers, IDC noted. Enterprises with the resources to build and manage their own internal, high-end data centers will continue to do so, especially in the fast-growing economy of China.
Such large and advanced in-house IT environments are expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8.4 percent between now and 2018, according to IDC. By the end of that period, these types of facilities will account for nearly one-third of all the world's data center space, IDC added.
Expect the Unexpected?
We reached out to Jeff Clark, editor of the Data Center Journal, to learn more about the changes taking place in today's enterprise computing environment.
"For many companies, the data center is an enabler rather than a central component of their business," Clark said. "So, by outsourcing it to a provider that specializes in this area, they can invest more time and energy on their core products and services. In addition, because an in-house data center can be so expensive to build, outsourcing reduces or eliminates capital expenses and thus ease[s] the immediate financial burden. Furthermore, service providers (particularly those operating mega data centers) can take advantage of economies of scale to deliver resources at a lower cost than would be possible using a more traditional approach."
As with any shift toward third-party service providers, the move to off-site data center services can involve data security and ownership risks, Clark added. Organizations moving away from in-house IT can protect themselves in this regard by carefully reviewing service-level agreements with their service providers, he said.
In the long term, it's difficult to foresee what tomorrow's enterprise computing environment will look like on a global scale, Clark added.
"Right now, the trend is definitely toward centralization of IT resources into the hands of a smaller number of providers instead of numerous companies across industries," he noted. "Because the industry is so capital intensive, the number of major providers will necessarily be relatively low, but I can't say whether it will increase or decrease in the next few years. Brewing macroeconomic factors may come into play; for instance, there's a sense among many market watchers that the technology sector is currently a bubble. As these factors and technical matters like the winding down of Moore's Law intersect, the outcome could be something entirely unexpected."