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IDC: Data Centers Becoming Smaller, Faster

U.S. data centers are starting to look trimmer and run faster thanks to virtualization and automation tools, according to research firm IDC.

The Framingham, Mass., company said data centers are becoming more utilized and therefore denser and hotter. The number of pieces of data center equipment is also slimming down to include fewer machines.

For example, with virtualization, customers can run multiple operating systems on one machine, reducing the number of machines they need to run their businesses.

"Virtualization, simplification, optimization and automation are all key drivers influencing the successful transformation of the U.S. data center," said IDC analyst Michelle Bailey.

Thanks to this push, customers concerned about using software to consolidate and automate their computer networks are interested in products from VMware, SWSoft, Xen and Virtual Iron.

Blade server systems are another prime example of the shift to more condensed data centers. Where mainframes once ruled the data center roost almost exclusively, smaller blades that slide in and out of chassis are becoming more prevalent these days.

Blades, which IDC said grew 49.3 percent as a market year over year and climbed 56.9 percent from 2004 to 2005, boast designs and redundant capabilities to allow one server to keep up and running after another winks out.

IT administrators can pull the dead blade out for repairs while hot pluggable systems don't miss a beat to server computing power to computers.

Blades are arriving en masse at the same time as heavy Web applications, such as customer relationship management or human resource management products from SAP or Oracle.

Such applications are becoming more dependent on access to data in real time, spurring the need for greater processing speeds and feeds.

Automation of both hardware and software will be the key to containing costs as the need for more powerful processing continues to increase, IDC said.

Bailey said IT vendors are trying to accommodate the changes, delivering new IT services while increasing service levels and maintaining or lowering IT budgets and staffing levels.

At the same time, unlike the first half of the decade, businesses are more willing to spend money to make money, she said.

"IT budgets, often strained by the need for real estate, power and cooling, will shift toward building new applications and IT services that are specifically developed to drive new business," Bailey said.

In other aspects of the evolving data center, compliance regulations, such as Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPAA, remain a major concern for U.S. companies.

The rules will force businesses to buy systems that ensure constant availability and disaster recovery, she said.