Over the next five years, the data center will continue to shake off the constraints of a single, physical location to take advantage of the new opportunities afforded by mobility, the cloud, and high-performance networking, said David Cappuccio, managing vice president and chief of research for Gartner's infrastructure teams, today in his keynote at Gartner's Data Center summit.As such, Cappuccio says, the data center's role will shift dramatically from simply a repository of legacy applications, to become the linchpin for enterprise agility and enable IT efficiency, greater security and lowered risk, and competitive advantage, he says.Software-Defined Everything"This year, we're seeing organizations really start to examine how 'software-defined' everything impacts the data center," Cappuccio says. "Software-defined networking, software defined storage, that's all part of the conversation; how to move away from the physical and into the conceptual, but is there a way to take that concept and apply that to data centers as a whole."[Related: Is Converged Infrastructure the Future of the Data Center?\n\n\n\n\nThere always will be a need for physical data center locations, but if the inner workings of a data center facility are less about the hardware and physical machines and more about the software, organizations can see increased flexibility, agility and lowered risk of downtime, he says.\n "We're not there yet, but the idea of having a site in the Midwest United States, for example, and one in Europe, linked together and managed from a single location is appealing." -- David Cappuccio, Gartner \n\n"Data centers will no longer be constrained by one specific site. Instead, organizations will have multiple sites, connected by high performance networks, with the ability to move workloads to where it's less risky and more secure for the business," he says. \n\n[Related: Amazon Web Services Competitors Get Bad News From Gartner ]\n\n\n\nDuring hurricane Sandy in 2012, Cappuccio says, organizations ran into a fatal flaw in otherwise robust disaster recovery plans -- even those with offsite backup and disaster recovery sites were left crippled if roads were impassible, if backup generators failed, he says.\n\nAn IT Strategy Shift\n\nBut the data center will evolve beyond that focus on geography over the next five years, he says, toward an operational strategy that puts more emphasis on business continuity and workload management, he says.\n\n"We see organizations asking, 'what if I had an offsite data center, in a completely different geography, where I could move workloads instantly to minimize risks'?" Cappuccio says.\n\nThis strategy will also contribute to increased efficiency, he says, and will offer organizations a greater competitive advantage.\n[Related: Gartner Says CIOs and CMOs Must Learn to Collaborate on Digital Marketing ]\n\n"Certain times of the day, you may be running at higher utilization; in the mornings, for example, when all your users are logging in. If you could move workloads during those times, you could get better utilization from the facilities, and have a more flexible environment," he says.\n\nA Competitive Business Edge\n\nLeading edge companies are beginning to realize that this kind of flexibility and agility offer a great competitive advantage, he adds, though it will still be a few years before the strategy is commonplace.\n\n"We're not there yet, but the idea of having a site in the Midwest United States, for example, and one in Europe, linked together and managed from a single location is appealing," he says.\n\nSharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.