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Predictions for 2008: A massive data meltdown

You think the theft of a laptop with credit card numbers is bad? You haven't seen anything yet, say Sun executives.

Remember the panic when the first computer worm hit? We're going to have a crisis like that next year when we get the first data center meltdown, predicted Subodh Bapat, a vice president in the eco-computing team at Sun Microsystems.

"You'll see a massive failure in a year," Bapat said at a dinner with reporters on Monday. "We are going to see a data center failure of that scale."

"That scale" referred to the problems caused by the worm created by Cornell grad student Robert Morris Jr. in 1988. His worm infected about 5 percent of the Unix boxes on the Internet, freaked people out, and helped jump-start the security industry.

Of course, it's just a prediction, so there is no guarantee that it will happen. But it does seem possible. Data centers have mushroomed with the flood of processes and jobs being turned over to the Internet. Companies have built up their data centers, but even with technologies like virtualization it's been tough to keep up. At some point, a data center is going to crash and people are going to go spastic.

On a more cheery note, Bapat and other Sun executives said that the IT industry is also on the verge of a construction boom that, if it happens, will lead to big orders for equipment for makers of servers, storage systems, and other data center equipment.

The typical life span of a data center is only about 10 to 12 years, said the Sun executives. Thus, a lot of those data centers built at the beginning of the dot-com era need to be rebuilt. Other companies like Facebook are expanding rapidly as well. (Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos mentioned Facebook several times, so it sounds like maybe Sun is working with, or trying to work with, them. Just a thought.)

National labs and universities are also looking at new centers. Next year, one of the national labs has plans to build a data center that will take up 500,000 square feet and consume 50 megawatts. (Big data centers now take up 400,000 square feet and chew up 40 megawatts, Sun executives said.)

Other organizations are looking at 50-megawatt to 70-megawatt data centers.