Stakeholders in the IT industry – vendors, channel, consultants, analysts and end-users – must look at the political world with envy when it comes to the certainties to be encountered at Westminster and beyond! Brexit is an almost guaranteed disaster. For the Brexiteers, we’ll end up being too generous when it comes to the much talked about ‘divorce bill’, and for the Bremoaners, any deal short of the existing one we have as part of the EU will be a disaster.

Add in the certainty of financial and personal life scandals, stir with the ongoing ’will she or won’t she remain as Prime Minster,’ sprinkle in a pinch of economic meltdown as the lessons of 2008 seem well and truly forgotten (apparently there’s more personal debt now than there was before that previous crash – oh dear!), and that’s the year 2018 in politics.

Turning our attention to the world of IT and data centers, and nothing is quite so clear. Blink and you’ll miss the next technology development or business trend. Don’t believe me? Then think back over the past 10 years or so. Plenty has changed and, most notably, the pace of change has picked up dramatically, which makes planning for the future a particularly difficult task. That said, while there may be no ‘death and taxes’ certainties, there are some obvious trends that will continue, alongside the emergence of at least one new technology.

Christmas present
– Thinkstock / Milkos

What to expect

The IT and data center industry has performed the in/out dance since its birth. One minute everything needs to be centralized. The next minute everything needs to be distributed. That model is now being replaced by what we call hybrid infrastructure – a balanced mix of centralized and distributed IT resource, housed in a mixture of large, consolidated data center facilities and, increasingly, local, edge, micro data centers. Clearly, one size doesn’t fit all.

Similarly, there seems to be a final recognition that any organization needs to have a mixture of in-house and external IT and data center resources, including colo, cloud and managed services. Optimum flexibility, efficiency and cost requirements dictate such a policy. So, we have the emergence of a hybrid, hybrid world. IT and data center infrastructure owned and operated in-house, owned and operated externally from a mixture of consolidated, centralized and distributed, localized facilities.

To reflect this change, it seems reasonable to expect an organization’s workforce expertise to be transformed - especially when it comes to the IT department. There may no longer be the need for dedicated, single discipline IT experts, as much of the required skills are being sourced externally. The data center is finally being recognized as a business data/information resource, and this requires that the data center professionals and the facilities folks bury the hatchet and work closely together.

It’s been talked about for years, but it does need to happen. Add in the fact that completely non-technical staff should be enabled (within boundaries) to fire up IT resources without finding a bottleneck in the data center or IT infrastructure, and we see the emergence of…a hybrid, almost virtualized, pool of human resource when it comes to specifying and implementing the infrastructure required to support any new application. That’s to say, personnel from all company departments need to be involved in the IT and data center process.

Automation and orchestration are crucial to achieving all of the above. So expect big things from this management area over the next 12 months. Running a hybrid, agile and optimized data center and IT infrastructure is no longer possible without high levels of automated management. It’s just surprising that there aren’t more comprehensive solutions out there. We seem to be stuck in the multi-console age – whereby there are far too many software programs running small chunks of the business. That needs to change.

Technology-wise, things move fast in the IT space. Not so much in the data center industry – where some of the established technologies are those discovered by the ancient Greeks! It may take a while for the pace of change to increase, but I’m reliably informed by several sources that foam batteries will have a major impact on the data center space in the near future. The promise is of better safety, much higher densities, and lighter weight batteries. Foam batteries seem to be under the radar as far as Wikipedia is concerned, but there’s plenty of vendor information out there for those interested.

It would be great to think that foam batteries are going to be just one or many energy efficiency related developments that will take the industry by storm – alternative energy, waste heat re-use and the like – but the UK seems depressingly slow to investigate these alternatives. No doubt, as smart cities become a reality, the data center will have to adapt to play its full part.

Depressingly, it seems safe to predict that, despite the Digital Age developing at pace, far too many data centers will continue to be (relatively) inefficient and expensive to run!

I’ve managed to get this far without mentioning the ‘highlight’ of 2018 – but I can’t end without a nod in the direction of the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Security breaches are just a part of the landscape these days, but compliance promises to be center stage, if only for a short while when GDPR finally arrives. I imagine that there will be a flurry of stories, as mainstream journalists make all manner of data-related requests to see if they can catch out big name organizations. And once this initial furore dies down, everyone will realize that, in actual fact, if they are looking after their data diligently, then GDPR compliance will not actually cause too many problems. But that won’t stop all the hype from vendors trying to push GDPR solutions!

Jonathan Arnold is managing director at Volta Datacentres, providing colocation services in London