Emerson Survey Forecasts Major Data Center Challenges & Changes

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  April 30, 2014

Emerson Network Power released “Data Center 2025: Exploring the Possibilities,” a report summarizing four months of global research designed to identify industry experts’ vision of the data center in the year 2025. Based on interviews with more than 800 data center professionals from around the world (and contributions from dozens of others who shared their thoughts via email and video), the results ranged from the expected to the ambitious. What was clear throughout is that IT experts believe modern data centers will undergo significant, even massive changes over the next decade.

Viewed collectively, survey results indicate that most in the field remain bullish on the data center industry and continued IT innovation. For example, on average, experts predict density in 2025 will climb to an extremely ambitious (some would say unrealistic) 52 kW per rack. According to the Data Center Users’ Group (sponsored by Emerson Network Power), average density has remained relatively flat since peaking around 6 kW nearly a decade ago, but some experts anticipate a radical upswing in density.

Other notable survey results and forecasts from the report:

  • Big changes in how data centers are powered: Respondents believe a mix of sources will be used to provide electrical power to data centers with dramatic growth in renewable solar and wind power and significant reductions in coal and natural gas and hydroelectric sources. Sixty-five percent believe hyperscale facilities are likely to be powered by private power generation.
  • Cloud forecasts are somewhat conservative: Industry experts predict two-thirds of data center computing will be done in the cloud in 2025; a fairly conservative estimate that’s in line with Cisco’s Global Cloud Index, which estimates that cloud workloads represent around 46 percent of current total data center workloads, and will reach 63 percent by 2017.
  • DCIM will play a prominent role: Twenty-nine percent of experts anticipate data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions will provide comprehensive visibility across all systems and layers, while 43 percent expect data centers to be self-healing and self-optimizing. Taken together, 72 percent of respondents believe some level of DCIM will be deployed in 2025—significantly higher than most current estimates.
  • Utilization rates will be higher: That increased visibility is expected to lead to more efficient performance overall, as 72 percent of industry experts expect IT resource utilization rates will be at least 60 percent in 2025. That compares to estimated averages today as low as 6 to 12 percent, with best practices somewhere between 30 to 50 percent.

The Data Center 2025 report and survey results are available at Emerson Network Power’s Newsroom.

The Pitch

Emerson’s Data Center 2025 survey asks IT professionals to put on their forward-thinking caps, with mixed results.

Final Analysis

Conventional wisdom suggests that if you want a clear, unvarnished view of a situation, the best available opinions come from workers in the trenches. That makes a certain amount of sense. After all, those are the folks who deal with the dirty bits of day-to-day work, and are responsible for cleaning up the often untidy results of what happens when fictional marketing claims meet unschooled executive enthusiasms. But while insights from these folks can provide value, the view from the trenches is often more subterranean than panoramic.

There are several examples of this in the Emerson survey, but the responses on power density and electrical power sources are good examples. In the former point, expecting a near-order of magnitude jump (from the current 6kW per rack to 52kW) in the next decade isn’t merely extremely ambitious, it’s a bit loony, especially when one considers how little progress has been made in this regard over the past decade. In fact, 41percent of participants said power density would be between 80kW to 100kW by 2025, suggesting a heady level of optimism that could be fatal in some professions.

The future of electrical power sources is a different sort of issue, resting as it does on a range of factors far removed from computing technology. For example, the current significant drop in coal consumption by U.S. utilities has largely been fueled (pun intended) by the rapid expansion of natural gas resources. That’s good news, but in Asia, where markets are driving a significant amount of data center construction, coal is king and looks likely to remain that way, despite the massive pollution literally choking parts of China. There’s certainly good news around renewable energy, particularly significant drops in solar panel costs, but that seems unlikely to deliver the kind of impact survey respondents expect by 2025.

That said, a number of results from Emerson’s survey were quite thought-provoking. For example, while participants as a group were somewhat conservative in assessing what share of their workloads would reside in the cloud by 2025, a sizable group (34 percent) put the number at a much more liberal 80 to 100 percent. In another instance, when asked how the floor space of data centers in 2025 would compare to today’s facilities, a significant majority (58 percent) said future data centers would be half the size or less.

One of the survey’s most interesting queries centered on participants’ optimism about their own positions; that is, how many expect to be employed at data centers in 2025 (and if not, why not). Their responses provided some fascinating regional deviations. For example, in the U.S., Europe and Latin America, only half expected to be employed at data centers in ten years. While retirement was cited by 20 to 25 percent of those in Europe and Latin America, the number was 37 percent in the U.S. and just 10 percent in Asia/Pac. That suggests wide generational disparities but is also likely to affect job availability, wage levels and employer demand, especially in the U.S.

It is obvious that we believe some results of Emerson Network Power’s “Data Center 2025” survey should be taken with a grain of salt, but quibbling aside, the report offers much food for thought. Given the robust, even radical growth of IT-enabled mobile solutions, such as smart phones and related services, data centers and their employees stand at the center of a revolution in consumer and business behavior. Where those workers expect data centers and industry to be in 2025 may not be right on the money but their central role in one of the world’s most important industries makes their opinions and prognostications worthy of study.

© 2014 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.