What is a next-generation data centre (NGDC) anyway?

A corridor in a blue-hued data centre
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Cloud computing has spawned a provincial language all of its own with terms like 'elastic scaling', 'agile re-provisioning' and of course 'virtualisation' now being unexceptional to the commonly understood lingua franca of the industry.

The upshot of cloud in deployment terms has meant that the back office or even the 'server farm' as we once knew it has transmogrified into the so-called next-generation data centre or NGDC.

So what has changed?

Popular opinion seems to centralise on NGDCs as data environments for cloud that are more modular in their initial design and more ‘accepting’ of new technology when it comes along. Speaking at VMware Forum UK this week the company’s Joe Baguley said that true next-gen data centres will be software-driven and not hardware driven.

Analyst firm Gartner suggests any data centre more than seven years old is obsolete, so does that mean that the next-gen paradigm has only been around for six years and eleven months? If this is so, what is the state of our collective progress to now migrate towards the new NGDC model?

Network security firm Crossbeam conducted a survey in order attempt to understand the wider IT industry’s perspective of NGDCs, how technologies will be virtualised within them and the importance of transitioning away from the traditional data centre in the first place.

Where Crossbeam’s work has (arguably) been insightful are findings which suggest NGDC structures need to be architected to use virtualisation in other areas besides the server infrastructure, in essence extending the private cloud to include storage and network security.

Okay no major surprise Crossbeam mentioned security, but seriously -- there might be a lesson here in terms of the way application servers, chunks of storage and also networking components including switches and routers are tuned for cloud service level performance. If, that is, we are to avoid more Gartner scaremongering in another seven years time.

Any other NGDC challenges then?

The survey also threw up additional ‘challenges’ as highlighted by the C-level respondents questioned. Migration to cloud-enriched NGDCs is also constrained by obvious budget restrictions, but also by internal politics, trust in virtualised solutions, lack of virtualisation expertise and scalability concerns. This leads us to a point where a mere 3 percent of firms who have looked to deploy and/or employ NGDC technology have done so comprehensively, if we are to give Crossbeam’s survey any credence.

On a more practical level, Quocirca analyst Rob Bamforth suggests that the real issues here for NGDC technology and the cloud are the still stubbornly high levels of scepticism and misunderstanding about their wider usage as a mission critical platform. Citing his own company’s recent research conducted on behalf of Oracle, Bamforth submits that part of the reason stems from the move away from a simple homogeneous approach (either at the hardware, software or application server level) towards more ‘integrated clouds’.

“This complex mix increases the need for better IT asset management (an issue we've written about recently in a piece entitled ‘Don't sweat assets, liberate them’) both in the enterprise and cloud service provider. This should hopefully mean that 'seven year obsolescence' isn't something that should cause a sudden fiscal shock as IT elements/assets can be phased out or replaced at the best technical as well as commercial timing,” said Bamforth

Generally then, the mechanics of next-generation data centre as we view them today appear to be far from precision-engineered at this stage. This is, it would appear, a work in progress.