Summary:

People think of data centers as a big, clunky category, but in the cloud computing era it shouldn’t be a surprise that the sector has been hot, with more hotness to come. As more cloud services come online, demand for webscale data centers will keep growing.

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Most people think of data centers as a big, stodgy category, but in this era of cloud computing, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the sector has been hot, with more hotness to come.

As more cloud services come online — as they seem to be doing by the day this week at the Consumer Electronics Show – the demand for webscale data centers to power them will grow as well.

“In public cloud, where you do more things for more people — things like iCloud or perhaps what Acer and Lenovo are doing [at CES], you’ve got to build out data centers to accommodate a bigger user base,” said Sam Barnett, directing analyst for data center and cloud for market researcher Infonetics.

New Infonetics research shows the global data center players with the biggest data centers are those with the most aggressive plans to build out even more capabilities.

The numbers show that of the 19 big data center providers surveyed, those that field the biggest of the big “super data centers” plan to add more. Aggregate numbers from the 19 companies indicate they plan to move from three to five of these data centers by the end of 2013. (Infonetics defines super data centers as those with more than 10,000 physical servers.)

“That is very significant growth in a short amount of time,” said Barnett. While the research firm doesn’t name the companies surveyed, it says they include large telcos, cable operators, and big data center and co-location providers. Barnett did note that big Internet content providers like Google, Facebook and Yahoo weren’t surveyed — so their expansion plans are not factored in.

There are also plans to expand medium and large data centers, but the growth rate there isn’t as dramatic, Barnett said. These findings fall in line with anecdotal evidence that the biggest data centers are building out additional capacity as companies increasingly move more of their work to outside data center providers that can offer great price advantages.

Growth expected after M&A boom

That projected data center growth comes after a year of moving and shaking in the data centers arena, which saw $12.3 billion in M&A activity worldwide last year, according to BroadGroup, a U.K.-based consulting firm. Most of those deals were worth less than $100 million, but there were a few blockbusters, including CenturyLink’s $2.5 billion buy of Savvis and a partnership of KKR, Silver Lake and Technology Crossover Ventures snapping up GoDaddy for $2 billion. And don’t forget Verizon’s buyout of Terremark.

Very few of even the biggest companies on the planet can run a big data center as efficiently as Amazon or another super-data-center provider can. Unless and until those economics change, expect more growth as the biggest-of-the-big data center providers get bigger still.

Photos courtesy of Flickr user Tom Raftery

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