Data Center Spending to Shift From Hardware to Software: Study

Enterprises have largely deployed the infrastructure for cloud-ready data centers, says TheInfoPro. Cloud platforms will get the most interest now.

Spending on IT infrastructure in general and servers in particular will slow over the next two years as virtualization becomes more prevalent in data centers, with enterprises shifting their focus to software, according to a recent report by TheInfoPro.

Businesses over the past several years have pushed to deploy server virtualization technology in the data center, fueling a spending spree on x86-based systems that could host increasing numbers of virtual machines and support cloud environments, according to Peter ffoulkes, research director for servers and virtualization at the TheInfoPro.

Now, with those servers in place and becoming more virtualized, there is less need for new systems, ffoulkes told eWEEK. The slowdown on hardware spending "is an artifact of server virtualization," he said. "It's freeing [IT administrators] up to look at other things."

Those other things are primarily software tools—not only management, automation and configuration offerings, but also private cloud computing platforms.

The findings are part of TheInfoPro's latest Servers and Virtualization Study, released Dec. 3. TheInfoPro is a service of 451 Research.

According to ffoulkes, the transition in spending from hardware to software is the natural order of things as enterprises continue their migration to software-defined data centers that can support cloud computing environments. Businesses are still spending to create these cloud-based infrastructures, but the hardware refresh cycles for the most part are completed. The virtualization bubble, according to ffoulkes, has burst.

Most infrastructure technologies will see a slowdown in spending, but it will hit x86 rack servers particularly hard, he said. According to the study, 35 percent of respondents surveyed said they will spend less in this area in 2013 than they did last year, with 41 percent saying they will spend less in 2014.

"Generally, people are buying fewer of them, so there's less money being spent," ffoulkes said.

However, there is a growing interest in integrated infrastructure offerings, such as unified computing and converged infrastructures such as Cisco Systems' Unified Computing Systems (UCS), VCE's Vblocks and similar offerings from Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Forty-nine percent of respondents in TheInfoPro study said they are currently using such systems, while another 26 percent said they expect to be considering these technologies in the next two years.

"They're gaining more and more traction in the marketplace," he said.

In addition, as prices go down and capacity increases, businesses are increasingly looking at solid-state disks (SSDs), either inside servers or as direct-attached storage. Both the integrated infrastructures and SSDs are being view as important components in cloud-ready data centers.

As spending on IT infrastructure technologies is expected to decrease in 2013 and 2014, software needed to run cloud-ready data centers are expected to grow in that time. This year, the areas expected to see the most spending will be the management and automation of virtualized data centers. In 2014, cloud platforms will be the top focus, with 30 percent of respondents planning increased spending.

The leaders in this area include VMware, with its growing cloud capabilities, Citrix Systems and Microsoft, which offers such products as System Center, Hyper-V, Azure, Office 365 and SQL Server. The OpenStack cloud platform also is gaining interest among enterprises, particularly given the fast adoption by vendors and the drive to make it more enterprise-ready, ffoulkes said.

In data center management software, VMware and Microsoft get the most attention from respondents in the study, with BMC Software, CA, HP and ServiceNow also getting noticed.

ffoulkes is scheduled to lead a webinar about the study and its findings Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. EST.