Data centers, under strain, expand at furious pace

The digital economy is creating an unrelenting need for power, cooling, and space

About a third to half of all data centers will be physically expanding or leasing new space in the next two years, according to recent surveys.

These surveys are providing a picture of strains facing the facilities that cradle the digital economy, as well as the pressure data center and IT managers are under to keep up with demand.

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The Uptime Institute, for the first time, recently surveyed 525 data center operators and owners, 71 percent of whom are in North America. Of respondents, 36 percent said they will run out of power, cooling, and space through 2012.

To meet the need, 40 percent of the respondents plan to build a new a new data center, and 29 percent said they would lease additional space in a colocation center. Another 20 percent said they would move IT workloads to cloud providers.

Afcom, an association of data center managers, recently surveyed 360 IT managers and other IT executives, and found 29 percent are expanding or building a new data center. Another 21 percent said they are planning on expanding their existing data center or building a new data in the next two years.

Most organizations have taken advantage of the biggest "pressure reliever" of the last decade -- virtualization, said Tad Davies, executive vice president of the Bick Group, which designs and builds data centers. "There's not much more they can get there, so it's back to expansion," he said.

Matt Stansberry, director of content and publications at Uptime, who also developed the survey, said that with the economic downturn, "a lot of companies stretched server refresh cycles, but with budgets on the rise that means a lot of people will be running out of capacity."

Digital Realty Trust, a data center provider, recently surveyed 300 IT decision makers in North America with annual revenue of at least $1 billion or at least 5,000 employees. In its report this month, it found that 85 percent of respondents will definitely or probably expand their data centers this year.

That's a high percentage, but Digital Realty explains it by the size of the firms. Expansion includes everything from a physical expansion and leasing of colocation space to cloud computing services. It also represents a 4 percent increase over last year's survey results.

More power to them

One way of measuring the impact of data center expansion is on power consumption.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection released a report that estimated that national energy consumption by servers and data centers would rise from 7 gigawatts (GW) to 12 GW by this year, which would have required an additional 10 power plants. Power consumption had previously doubled from 2000.

The EPA has not updated its 2007 estimate, but it's believed that the recession and improvements in energy efficiency have reduced the original forecast for 2011.

However, nationally, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that demand for new generating power, for all needs by business and homes, will rise by 223 GW for all electrical energy uses through 2035. That estimate includes retirement of about 39 GW of existing capacity.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at

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This story, "Data centers, under strain, expand at furious pace " was originally published by Computerworld .

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