Top 10 datacentre stories of 2013

The drive for greater efficiency, CO2 reduction and the development of new technologies continued to dominate datacentre developments this year

The year started on a low and ended on a high for the datacentre industry. 

In January, large customers of collapsed datacentre and managed services provider 2e2 faced the unnerving prospect of having to cough up £1m to administrators to stop critical services grinding to a halt, before telco Daisy Group stepped in with a last-minute rescue bid

But by December, many in the industry were celebrating after the chancellor of the Exchequer gave the industry a prominent carbon tax break that many believe will give a significant fillip to third-party datacentre service providers.

Once again, improving energy efficiency was high on the agenda, with a number of prominent operators investing in datacentres in the Nordic countries, where the cold climate (perfect for low-cost cooling) and abundance of cheap, renewable energy proved a significant draw. 

Meanwhile, Facebook continued to push its Open Compute Project, an open source initiative to develop hardware to improve datacentre energy efficiency and performance across the industry.

There was more talk about the shape of super-efficient datacentres to come. VMware continued its relentless promotion of its software-defined datacentre (SDDC) architecture, while the race to produce system-on-chip components for the coming era of ultra-high-density micro-servers continued among chip makers such as Intel, AMD and ARM.

But the news was not all about new technologies. Microsoft’s imminent withdrawal of support for its ageing XP operating system (OS) sparked warnings from analyst Gartner that many businesses failing to migrate away from the OS could face dangerous vulnerabilities and non-compliance issues. The ageing mainframe, meanwhile, looked like it was having a resurgence in the datacentre, with many large financial and public sector organisations seeing it as critical to the future of their infrastructure. 

In many ways, 2013 was the year many companies began to realise that their current datacentre infrastructures were inadequate to handle future challenges, such as the need to analyse big data in real time. And as datacentre technologies continue to get better, faster, smaller and more efficient, 2014 is likely to see even more organisations taking stock and planning significant infrastructural overhauls. 

Here are the top 10 stories reflecting the datacentre developments of 2013:

1. 2e2 datacentre administrators hold customers' data to £1m ransom

Following the collapse of datacentre service provider 2e2 in January, administrators demanded customers pay almost £1m to keep systems running until a smooth migration could be arranged, or face their services grinding to an abrupt halt. The group's 20 largest customers, among them NHS trusts, Vodafone, Citigroup, O2 and Kellogg, were asked to pay the bulk of the money, with smaller businesses expected to pay £4,000 plus VAT each.

2. Daisy Group takes control of 2e2's datacentre operations

Telecoms service provider Daisy Group stepped in at the eleventh hour to acquire the datacentre business of collapsed service provider 2e2, throwing a lifeline to customers who had been told a week earlier they would need to pay a combined £1m to keep services running. O2 had earlier purchased the managed services division of the company, but despite rescue efforts most of 2e2’s other divisions were closed.

3. George Osborne announces datacentre carbon tax break in Autumn Statement

The chancellor of the Exchequer told the datacentre industry it would be made exempt from blanket carbon taxes and would instead be permitted to reach a separate climate change agreement in line with other energy-intensive industries outside the digital sector. The move was welcomed by industry campaign group techUK, which had long argued the previous policy could have crippled the industry in the UK.

4. Firms not ready for Windows XP end-of-life could face compliance risks

In May, analysts warned organisations still using XP that they only had a matter of months to begin a full migration to a more up-to-date operating system. Laggards faced the prospect of presiding over vulnerable, non-compliant systems after Microsoft ends support for XP in April 2014. Research firm Gartner predicted more than 15% of medium and large enterprises would still be running XP after the cut-off date.

5. Open source datacentre hardware helps Facebook save costs, energy

In September, Facebook's hardware design guru Frank Frankovsky explained how the company had cut costs by 24% and boosted energy efficiency by 38% by using open source hardware systems in its datacentres. The hardware was designed by the Facebook-initiated Open Compute Project, of which Frankovsky is also chairman. He predicted the group's community-led, collaborative development of open source hardware for more efficient datacentres would eventually result in the designs being adopted by companies with mainstream computing requirements.

6. Mainframe dead? IT still sees it as robust, long-term solution, shows study

The mainframe is alive and well and looking forward to a bright future in large enterprises, according to a survey of global IT executives. More than nine out of 10 respondents saw mainframes as playing a critical part in their future IT strategy, citing robustness, security, availability and performance as the key reasons why. Two-thirds of respondents represented organisations with revenue greater than £1bn. The majority worked in financial services (45%) or government (20%). 

7. Nordics push to become European datacentre hub

Sustainable, low-cost energy and free cooling encouraged more large datacentre operators to open facilities in the Nordics. Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Finland all featured in a prominent annual report on the top 10 best places to build a datacentre. Microsoft, Google, Ericsson, Telecity and Digiplex were among those announcing major investments in the region this year, while Facebook's Lulea datacentre on the edge of the Arctic circle opened for business. But the Nordics' ambition to become a major European datacentre hub could be hampered by latency issues, thought analyst 451 Research.

8. VMware strengthens cloud and software-defined datacentre portfolio at VMworld 2013

Virtualisation giant VMware launched a slew of products and services designed to speed the uptake of the software-defined datacentre (SDDC), a concept it had introduced the year before as the next big thing in IT. At its annual VMworld conference, the company said SDDC architecture was far more simple, efficient, agile and flexible – taking advantage of virtualisation not just in servers, but also in networking, security, storage, availability, management and automation. Cosmetic company Revlon testified it had saved $70.4m as a result of adopting SDDC.

9. Intel launches micro-server, network, storage technologies to power cloud datacentres

Chip maker Intel launched its second generation of chips for micro-servers, the 64-bit Atom C2000 family, aimed at improving performance and energy efficiency. Its system-on-chip family features up to eight cores, integrated Ethernet and supports up to 64GB of memory. The launch reflected increasing competition in the micro-server chip market, which is likely to dominate in the software-defined datacentres of the future as operators seek ever higher densities of highly efficient servers.

10. Inadequate datacentre infrastructure is a barrier to big data analytics

Lack of appropriate datacentre infrastructure is hampering UK enterprises’ big data projects, according to a CIO survey commissioned by Hitachi Data Systems. Although three-quarters of CIOs said they were investing in big data analytics, six out of 10 of them admitted they do not have the right datacentre infrastructure in place to handle real-time information across all their data sets.

Read more on Managing servers and operating systems