Applications running inside data centers are enabled through the cooperation of thousands of servers arranged in racks and interconnected together through the data center network. Current DCN architectures based on electronic devices are neither scalable to face the massive growth of DCs, nor flexible enough to efficiently and cost-effectively support highly dynamic application traffic profiles. The FP7 European Project LIGHTNESS foresees extending the capabilities of today's electrical DCNs throPugh the introduction of optical packet switching and optical circuit switching paradigms, realizing together an advanced and highly scalable DCN architecture for ultra-high-bandwidth and low-latency server-to-server interconnection. This article reviews the current DC and high-performance computing (HPC) outlooks, followed by an analysis of the main requirements for future DCs and HPC platforms. As the key contribution of the article, the LIGHTNESS DCN solution is presented, deeply elaborating on the envisioned DCN data plane technologies, as well as on the unified SDN-enabled control plane architectural solution that will empower OPS and OCS transmission technologies with superior flexibility, manageability, and customizability.