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Channel players selling into data centers could see a bumper year, after more than 90 percent of data center managers revealed they are looking into deploying server virtualization or consolidation.

According to a Symantec survey released yesterday, the data center has become more demanding than ever, leaving data center managers with a laundry list of concerns.

“We knew going into this study that data centers were a challenging place, but the real challenges came in terms of cost: SLA’s [service-level agreements] are going unmet; budgets are not increasing as fast as expenses; and there are many challenges associated with human resources,” said Matt Fairbanks, senior director of product marketing in the Data Center Management Group at Symantec, in Cupertino, Calif.

Ninety-one percent of data center managers said that they were discussing server virtualization and consolidation, while half said they were implementing server virtualization and 58 percent were implementing server consolidation. Three-quarters reported exploring the option of storage virtualization.

Outsourcing, particularly such tasks as server maintenance and backups, was another popular solution to inherent constraints faced by data centers. This strategy, rather than saving money was viewed most often as a way of allowing existing staff to focus on other tasks. Seventy-five percent of non-U.S. companies and 54 percent of U.S. respondents said that they are considering storage-as-a-service offerings.

However, SLAs still proved tough to meet, although 65 percent of those surveyed indicated that SLAs exist in their organization, half of the respondents said these agreements are more difficult to meet than they had been two years ago. Eighty-five percent, meanwhile, said that SLA expectations have gradually increased in that time period.

Clearly, data centers are growing faster than their budgets, the study found. “We probed what’s behind these changes and the No. 1 reason is the increasing complexity in the data center,” said Fairbanks. “Growth, flat budgets and inadequate staffing are also big contributing factors.”

Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said that their expenditures are growing at least 5 percent a year, while 11 percent report growth of 20 percent or more. Budgets, meanwhile, are growing at an average of about 7.1 percent worldwide, while inflation is inflating costs about 3 percent annually.

“It also came up over and over again that data center managers are asking how to deal with growth and bringing on new servers, storage arrays, with flat or relatively flat headcount,” Fairbanks added.

More than half of those survey reported that their data center is understaffed, while 86 percent said that finding qualified staff and retaining skilled employees was challenging. Two-thirds, meanwhile, pointed to an increasing number of applications to manage as an aggravating issue.

The global study, which was performed by Ziff Davis Enterprise Research, took input from 800 data center managers in Global 2000 organizations spread across 14 countries.