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The total number of data centers around the world will peak at 8.6 million in 2017, and then begin a slow decline, predicts IDC.

The change will be fuelled by mass migration from small, on-premise facilities run by internal IT teams to ‘mega data centers’ operated by large service providers. Worldwide datacenter space will continue to increase, growing from 1.58 billion square feet in 2013 to 1.94 billion square feet in 2018.

Earlier this week, Cisco’s Cloud Index drew similar conclusions, predicting that by 2018, more than three quarters of data center workloads will be running in cloud data centers.

Bigger is better

When you look closely, the change in the industry is not a decline at all – IDC says all types of data centers except for on-premise server rooms and closets will continue growing throughout the forecast period.

The shift is blamed on the changing role of the corporate data center. Where before, it supported business operations, today it is increasingly used to test new business models, improve products and support a meaningful relationship with the customer.

The infrastructure that enables these complex operations needs to be flexible, dependable and able to scale quickly – something that’s hard to achieve in-house, where additional equipment has to be bought and installed before it can be used.

“Over the next five years, a majority of organizations will stop managing their own infrastructure,” explained Richard Villars, VP of data center and cloud research at IDC. “They will make greater use of on-premise and hosted managed services for their existing IT assets, and turn to dedicated and shared cloud offerings in service provider datacenters for new services.

“This will result in the consolidation and retirement of some existing internal data centers, particularly at the low end. At the same time, service providers will continue their race to build, remodel, and acquire datacenters to meet the growing demand for capacity.”

IDC says the importance of ‘mega data centers’ built by the likes of Amazon and Microsoft will continue to increase. In terms of space, by 2018 such facilities will account for 72.6 percent of all service provider data center construction projects.

The number of high performance data center environments operated internally is also set to grow, especially in China.