Uptime Institute: Enterprise Server Footprint Flat or Shrinking

In its annual survey, the Uptime Institute finds enterprise cloud usage flat, even while the server footprint shrinks.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

May 3, 2017

6 Min Read
Source: Uptime Institute

The server footprint inside the enterprise data center is slowly shrinking but data centers are scarcely about to disappear just because the cloud is siphoning off part of their workloads. While cloud use is on the upswing, the enterprise data center continues to carry roughly two-thirds of the load, which hasn't changed much since 2014.

It's indisputable, however, that for the majority of respondents to an Uptime Institute survey, the data center as physical plant has stopped expanding and remains flat in total square footage or in some cases, the server footprint inside is actually shrinking. Sixty percent reported that conclusion, compared to 55% a year ago.

That's one of the highlights of the Uptime Institute's survey of enterprise data center users, according to Matt Stansberry, senior director of content and publications, at the institute. A slide deck summarizing the survey results is available with a registration at this site. For the seventh year, the institute, a unit of 451 Research, received responses to an email questionnaire from over 1,000 data center professionals around the world.

The footprint is shrinking because enterprises are finding they can get more work out of fewer updated servers than the models they used before. They're continuing to work the gains of virtualization and fitting more virtual machines per server. And they're moving enough workloads into the cloud to offset the need to increase their server count or require more data center space, the institute's survey of IT and data center managers showed.

Meanwhile, "the percentage of workloads residing in enterprise-owned/operated data centers has remained stable at 65% since 2014," the report on the survey of 1,000 IT practitioners and data center professionals, concluded. "What we see in the survey is that the cloud is not eating into enterprise computing the way I would have expected… Enterprises continue to see the data center as not just important but essential to their digital-centric strategies," Stansberry said in an interview with InformationWeek.

Twenty-two percent of IT assets are located in a co-location provider or other multi-tenant facility, such as wholesale data center space. Thirteen percent are in the cloud, a figure that has grown only one or two percent since 2014, despite the rapid growth in use of cloud computing, Stansberry said.

New customers are coming to the cloud and existing customers are doing many of their new applications in the cloud, "but a lot of on-premises workloads aren't going to the cloud," he said.

Want to learn more about how to view cloud workloads? See Nemertes CIO Burke: Do You Know Your Cloud TCO? 

On the other hand, companies are finding "they might need every data center they had five years ago. A lot of companies are dealing with a little excess space," as the server footprint starts to shrink, he said. CIOs and IT managers are uncertain of how much of their assets will end up in the cloud, but the availability of the cloud means most don't have new facilities on the design boards.

"Any large bank or traditional company will probably tell you they've got more space than they need and they're not building new data centers," Stansberry said.

In the survey, however, 45% of those who identified themselves as members of the facilities teams said they were upgrading their existing data centers. On the IT-manager side of the house, 43% said they would look to increase IT assets in the cloud. Both sides or 55% agreed they would continue to consolidate servers.


A footnote on cloud or outsourced service provider selection: 70% said their method for choosing a cloud or co-location provider could be improved. Fifteen percent said their selection process was "incoherent."

Uptime Institute is dedicated to improving system reliability, resilience and durability, so the survey asked about data center outages. Stansberry said he was surprised that 25% said they had experienced an outage in the past year. He said the term outage was strictly defined, and some respondents may have been referring to something like a CRM or database system outage, or even the loss of a SaaS service.

Sixty-eight percent said their organization had a multi-site, application failover resiliency strategy; 22% said they did not and 10% said they didn't know. Although failover wasn't defined, Stansberry said he would assume it meant a live application, up and running in an alternate site and primed to accept a switch-over of the incoming data stream. Some respondents may have also referred to sleeping virtual machines on an alternative site that could be activated to perform the same function, with some interruption of service tolerated.

Downtime worries endure

The cloud makes application resiliency more practical, since cloud servers can act as the failover site without the enterprise needing to invest in a secondary data center with battery room, diesel generations and fuel stored on-premises. Has the cloud made top management less concerned about backup systems and downtime? Ninety percent of respondents said, no, 90% are still closely attuned to constant availability of systems and conduct root cause analysis of any downtime; eight percent said, yes, their management was less concerned about downtime than a year ago.

Eleven percent said they had experienced a data center fire during their careers. In 19% of facilities, IT staffs rely on water to suppress a fire, although water is destructive to the computer equipment. Fifty-five percent rely on a clean agent or inert gas to suppress fire and 28% rely on both. Stansberry said these systems in themselves represent a hazard. Accidental discharges happen three times as often as fires, and even inert gas damages sensitive disk drives and other equipment as it's released under great pressure to drive the ambient air out of the data center.

A new technology, large scale lithium batteries are being used in place of the bank of 12-volt lead acid batteries, Stansberry noted. But if placed in the data center, a badly manufactured lithium ion battery itself becomes a fire hazard. Witness the airlines refusal to allow the Samsung smart phone with a defective battery on their planes, he said.

Lithium batteries have been adopted as the quickly available power supply by 7% of facilities in the U.S. and Canada; 4% of those in Europe; 35% in Africa and the Middle East and 13% in Russia. The latter two reflect the adoption of lithium ion batteries in areas building more new data centers, Stansberry said.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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