March 10, 2010 | The Wall Street Journal

Messages, files, images, videos – they’re being madly accumulated by the hundreds of millions of people now embracing gadget-filled lifestyles and ways of working.

But the abundance is testing the limits of the datacenters that must move and store it all. Companies behind booming “Web 2.0” services, like social networking, video sharing and blogging, and “cloud” computing businesses, which rent computing power or provide software as a service, are struggling to cope with increasingly complex and costly networks of countless server computers.

“We’ve basically reached breaking point,” says Drue Reeves, director of datacenter research at Burton Group, a research firm in Midvale, Utah. Companies don’t have the money to buy still more servers, hire the people to manage them, or build giant facilities to house, power and cool them.

Helping datacenters deal with these problems is the focus of a number of the technology companies on The Next Big Thing list. Each is coming at it a different way, but all aim to help datacenters work better, faster, cheaper. Several are focused on technologies that boost server efficiency, while others concentrate on networking improvements. And two interesting standouts tackle the data itself—trying to make order out of chaos and deliver more usable information.

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