Summary:

According to a survey by AFCOM, cloud computing is on the rise among data center operators, more than doubling since last year and expected to reach 80-90 percent in the next five years. The survey also shows that energy efficiency is driving data center decisions.

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According to a survey by AFCOM, cloud computing is on the rise among data center operators, more than doubling since last year, and expected to reach 80-90 percent in the next five years. Among respondents to the data-center-focused organization’s annual “State of the Data Center” survey, 36.6 percent have implemented some form of cloud computing technology within their data centers, and another 35.1 percent are seriously considering doing so. This is big leap from last year, when only 14.9 percent had implemented cloud technology, and underscores a general consensus among IT professionals and pundits that cloud computing is fast becoming an accepted delivery model for IT resources.

Other findings from the survey support the increased interest in cloud computing. One key trend is the rise of servers and the decline of mainframes among respondents: Whereas 91.3 percent said they had the same amount or fewer mainframes than they did three years ago, 73.6 percent have more servers than they did three years ago. Also, 86.6 percent said they are running more web applications than they were three years ago. More servers and more web applications don’t necessarily mean more cloud computing, but they certainly indicate environments better suited for the transition than are data centers filled with mainframes and running strictly internal-facing applications.

Following the general trends we’ve seen around the proliferation of data and increased demand for computing power, an overwhelming majority (90.9 percent) said they utilize more space for storage than they did three years ago, while 44.2 percent said their data centers occupy more square footage than they did three years ago.

Of course, all the extra equipment and space can wreak havoc on a company’s power bills, which is likely why survey respondents seem very tuned into monitoring power usage. The majority of respondents measure power usage effectiveness (PUE), cooling efficiency and server utilization, and the majority of respondents have already consolidated, are in the process of consolidating, or are planning to consolidate their data center operations. On the other hand, almost half of respondents also are in the process of expanding, or are planning to expand, their data centers, so perhaps energy-efficient hardware, software and building design are even more important in these efforts. Indeed, the vast majority of respondents (77.3 percent) have utilized server virtualization as a method to cut power costs, and a large percentage are undertaking a variety of measures from liquid cooling (21.8 percent) to UPS systems (88.5 percent).

When I spoke with AFCOM CEO Jill Eckhaus earlier this month, she said energy concerns have been a top concern among AFCOM members for about five years, and won’t likely be decreasing in importance any time soon. In fact, she noted, power availability is the primary concern in siting new data centers. Organizations are building new data centers, she said, in large part because they’re simply running out of space and power supply at their existing sites, but, as the survey suggests, they’re also building them smarter. She noted an increase in data center container use, too, and the 2011 survey shows 6.4 percent of respondents utilizing them. “I think during a down economy, you have to be smarter … about your purchases and what you’re doing,” Eckhaus said.

Conventional wisdom says cloud computing is a good way to curb energy use, but recent research suggests this isn’t always the case and, as my colleague Katie reported yesterday, Greenpeace is keeping tabs on the environmental impact of cloud data centers, and will release its findings on April 21 at our annual Green:Net conference. Greenpeace’s big push has been to expand energy-efficiency beyond smart design and efficient hardware and into use of clean energy. Only 3.9 percent of AFCOM respondents said they are currently using solar power, and companies such as Facebook have come under fire for their patronage of coal-powered energy plants. Also at Green:Net, energy experts from Google and Yahoo will sit down with Om Malik to talk about the cutting edge in green data center techniques, which should will find their way into mainstream data centers in the years to come.

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