The data centre is set to change radically in the future. It will be shaped in three areas: network convergence; advanced energy efficiency techniques such as water cooling; and "hyper consolidation" involving both virtualisation and blade servers, according to blade server group, Blade.org.

The group, which is hosting a technology symposium in New York, predicted the disappearance of separate I/O lanes for data networking, storage traffic and interprocess communications. Today each lane requires its own adapters, connectors and wires. Network convergence will end that, Blade.org says.

"In the future, data centres will converge I/O on Ethernet, running all their traffic on a single 'lane' or wire," Blade.org says. "This convergence is ideal for blade environments because they are tightly packed together with little room for extra components."

10 Gigabit Ethernet and 40 Gigabit Ethernet will be key to this transition, but some technology enhancements haven't arrived yet, says Doug Balog, chairman of Blade.org and vice president of development for IBM's blade and modular systems group.

"10 Gigabit kind of becomes the foundation, but there are enhancements to Ethernet that are needed and coming forward as standards through IEEE, that will provide lossless capability through the 10 Gigabit fabric," he said.

IBM and Intel started Blade.org in 2006 and have attracted about 200 members including APC, Brocade, NetApp, VMware, QLogic, Citrix, HBC and Wyse Technology. The member list is also notable for some large industry players that aren't named, such as IBM rival HP, and Intel's rival AMD.

The Blade.org board of directors came up with its "mega trends" list to provide insight to the industry and spur discussion on technology trends that could have major impacts on the data center in coming years.

The second trend, energy efficiency, is not a surprise inclusion on the list given recent industry focus on containing power and cooling costs. But the challenge of improving efficiency has caught some customers off guard over the last few years, and blade servers are both part of the problem and part of the solution, according to Balog.

"Blade servers are part of the solution because they are much more energy efficient than a rack full of 1U servers," he says. "But at the same time, because of the ability to provide a high-density offering within a smaller area, they're consuming more energy in a smaller space."

By freeing up space, blade servers tempt data centre managers to fill up their rooms with even more servers. "Blades are becoming part of the answer to a customer's data center challenges, but it has to be done in a thoughtful way so they're not creating their next set of problems," Balog says.

IBM has hyped the benefits of water cooling, and Blade.org cites statistics from Gartner predicting that 70 percent of data centres will use water cooling within three years. But a variety of approaches will be needed to solve the energy woes of data centres.

"This [problem] is one that cannot be ignored," Balog says. "I think water cooling provides part of the answer. I wouldn't say we're looking at it as the only answer."

The third big trend is hyper consolidation, driven by server virtualisation and a predicted move toward "consolidating servers, workstations and network devices into an integrated blade environment."
Blades and virtualisation are both becoming more popular, and complement each other well, Blade.org said.