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Data centers are facing huge problems with power, space and people that will only worsen in 2010, but Gartner says server replacement is not the answer, which is bad news for vendors and the channel.

Even while warning that data centers are facing huge problems that can be addressed in part by smaller, more powerful and power-efficient servers, Gartner is advising customers to try to get an extra year or two out of their existing servers. The advice is not as contradictory as it sounds, says Rakesh Kumar, research vice president at Gartner.

The Gartner Data Center Conference is taking place in Las Vegas, December 1-4, and the company says the energy, space and technology problems currently facing data center managers will get worse in 2010. Energy costs are the fastest-rising cost element in the data center portfolio and getting rid of a single x86 server will save more than $400 a year in energy costs, says Kumar.

The acquisition and energy consumption costs only represent about10-12 percent of the total cost of a server, he says. "In that case, it would make sense to keep the asset for another year or two and many users are doing that. It comes down to a CFO issue. We’re encouraging people to keep the asset for another year or two."

He says customers will find it cheaper to keep an asset rather than replace it even if they throw in additional warranty protection. This trend has been emerging over the last several years and is bad news for the vendors and channel.

Vendors like IBM are trying their best to change CFOs’ minds with a mix of technology, financing incentives and their own market research
(/news-and-trends/ibm-to-cfos-server-roi-trumps-tco//), but Kumar doesn’t think they will have much success.

"I don’t think the good days are back for vendors (and) I think it will be difficult for the channel. People see the benefits of extending the life of their assets."

However, if replacing servers is not the answer, there’s still positive news for selling additional servers. Even with a 20-25 percent contraction in server sales, customers have been maxing out their data centers and running out of floor space, cooling resources and energy, he says, and that will only get worse as the economy strengthens and server sales recover, says Kumar.

Gartner is assuming that we are at the bottom of the x86 server contraction, and sales should start climbing soon. But companies need to find a place for the new equipment, as well as the appropriate power and cooling resources.

Somewhat surprisingly, virtualization is not a huge factor in improving conditions in the data center. Average system utilization is around 10-15 percent, but with overhead and redundancy considerations, the optimal utilization should be around 60 percent, says Kumar. That would seem to represent a four to six-fold improvement, whereas Gartner is saying the reality would be far less. In fact, increased virtualization might be worse, he says.

"You could be creating a secondary problem worse than having too many servers." Managing a physical environment is much simpler. Running multiple applications across virtual machines with multiple operating systems and a mix of production and development systems, and management issues is a much more complicated situation.

"Once you reduce the number of boxes, the level of complexity is actually increasing. You take out the physical machines but significantly add to the operational and management issues."  He says the number of IT staff doesn’t go down but actually goes up marginally.

"We’re in the state now where the complexity going up and you have virtual machine sprawl." Kumar believes we’ll eventually get to the high level of automation seen at the mainframe level but that will be five-to-sever years from now.

Gartner offers the following tips to cut data center costs:

•    Rationalize the hardware by taking out underutilized or old systems, or where the workload can be run on more-efficient hardware. (Gartner clients have reported that rationalization and consolidation programs have resulted in 5 percent to 20 percent fewer servers being deployed)
Consolidate data center sites
•    Manage energy and facilities costs
•    Manage the people costs which still account for the single largest cost element for most data centers, sometimes as much as 40 percent of overall costs; and the bad news for the server vendors
•    Sweat the assets, Gartner’s term for delaying the procurement of new assets, especially as a server’s useful life often exceeds its amortized life.