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US data centers get bigger, but there are fewer of them – survey

The big get bigger up in the clouds, driven by storage

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So how many data centers, server rooms, and data closets do you think there are in the United States? You guess maybe 20,000? Maybe 100,000? Try 2.94 million, at least according to the box-counters at IDC.

This is a much larger number than you might expect, and considering there are tens of millions of small businesses in the US, maybe you were guessing the number should be larger. But El Reg was surprised that the number was even that large, given the complexity of managing modern infrastructure and the wide availability of hosted and cloudy systems these days.

According to research done by IDC, the Great Recession caused a mini-wave of consolidation, with companies closing thousands of remote locations with their own server rooms and data closets. In 2009, the number of data centers dropped by seven-tenths of a point – even as the aggregate data center capacity installed in that smaller number of data centers falls by 1 point. And this trend is continuing as the great Recession lingers on (government statistics notwithstanding). IDC says that the 2.94 million data centers in use in 2012 had a total capacity of 611.4 million square feet of floor space, and even as the number of data centers is expected to continue to shrink to 2.89 million by 2016, the aggregate floor space in those data centers is expected to rise to 700 million square feet.

Ironically, server virtualization has kept the floor space requirements from rising as quickly as many might have projected, but storage requirements are exploding – some might say are out of control – and that is driving up floor space needs.

The other big shift is toward service providers and away from corporate-owned data centers as companies embrace "the cloud". IDC is projecting that by 2016, more than a quarter of the data center floor space in the United States will be owned by service providers. ®

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