Consumers may dictate future of data centers

Today's teenagers could have more influence than seasoned IT buyers on tomorrow's data center technologies, according to Gartner's global head of research, Peter Sondergaard.

That's not because they'll be landing high-flying jobs as designers of microprocessors or hard disks, but because the digital music players and games consoles they're buying are becoming more sophisticated -- and component manufacturers are starting to focus their attention on this growing market, said Sondergaard, introducing a keynote speech by Gartner analysts at the Symposium/ITxpo conference and show in Cannes on Monday.

From this beginning, Sondergaard and his colleagues went on to explain how IT departments must adopt a services-oriented architecture to remain competitive.

"We see big changes coming in software, services, operations and hardware ... driven by big changes in consumer IT," Sondergaard said. The semiconductor content of consumer electronics devices will outweigh that of business systems, and consumers will buy the majority of hard disks, he predicted. "Soon, it won't be business in the driving seat."

By 2013, there will be 200 billion microprocessors in operation -- but only a small proportion of those will affect the data center, he said. For future performance increases, businesses had better look to virtualization as a way of meeting variation in demand, and with that change their major challenge will become managing service levels, not hardware.

That, in turn, will have an impact on software licensing, because in the virtualized data center, pricing applications by the number of processors they run on will cease to be meaningful.

The way businesses work will also be caught up in the wave of change, Sondergaard said. As IT staff increasingly purchase data center operations as a service, they need to have a better understanding of business processes, he said.

A number of Sondergaard's colleagues took the stage to complete the picture of how IT staff need to learn about business processes.

Many chief executive officers believe IT is holding their business back, said Howard Dresner, a Gartner vice president and research fellow. One reason for this is that businesses are increasingly focusing on horizontal processes linking departments, while IT systems are still structured vertically, within departments.

The key to changing this is a services-oriented architecture, he said: applications built from smaller software components providing services, and linked together to form a large whole.

Jeff Comport, a vice president and analyst at Gartner, took up the theme.

"Component architecture is nothing new. It started with Fortran libraries. The difference this time is that the services are truly independent , so you can take one from one vendor and mix it with another from someone else," Comport said. In the future, software will become a portfolio of capabilities rather than a list of applications, he said.

One of the challenges in modelling business processes in such a software architecture will be modelling the behavior of people, said Yvonne Genovese, a research vice president at Gartner. In particular, there is the matter of what she called "swivel-chair integration" -- the capacity of someone well-versed in the company's operations to coordinate several independent processes simply by knowing the right people to call. While it's possible to model the financial and inventory aspects of receiving an order cancellation, for example, it's much harder to model the actions of a knowledgeable order clerk tipping off sales or customer service staff about a potentially unhappy client.

IT departments will have to reinvent themselves, according Frank Buytendijk, a research vice president at Gartner: the more businesses break applications up into small components, the harder IT departments will have to think about how to link them together again. On the other hand, it could put a welcome end to mammoth multiyear projects: IT departments will still have to think big, but they will be able to implement incrementally, he said.

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