New Opportunities in the Government Sector: Part 1

Across the world there are new opportunities for data center and IT consulting companies to capitalize on the consolidation projects being launched in the Government sector.  Like commercial enterprises, governments focusing on governance (no pun intended) of IT see the benefits of consolidation of the data processing footprint.  Also like commercial enterprises, governments have business silos (perhaps even more so than commercial enterprises), with duplication of functions and roles, overlapping systems and technology, as well as lots and lots of waste.  Consolidation portends cost savings through elimination of non-beneficial redundancies, and better application of good governance processes to the holistic IT environment.

In the government sector, these projects are big.  Really big.  In a series of posts, we’ll cover several countries around the globe in which the government is planning large scale data center consolidations.

Part 1:  United States of America

In the United States (my home country), the federal government has embarked upon a six-month planning cycle to address data center sprawl.  Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, instructed federal agency CIO’s to embark on a broad consolidation initiative to bring control to the government’s data center sprawl (now counting over 1,000 data centers).  Goals of the initiative include:

Solar Power Incentives from US Government

We’ve talked about wind power for data centers and mission critical facilities, and often the subject of solar power comes up in those same conversations.¬† Dedicated commercial solar installations generating more than a megawatt are rare, and as such have very limited contribution as an energy alternative for data centers.¬† There is growing interest though, in the implementation of solar generating capacity for a slightly different reason.

Green Data Centers: Some things are easier than others

When recently interviewed for a magazine article, I was asked about Green initiatives by data center operators.  There are lots of innovative techniques for reducing power consumption in data centers, and lots of ways to apply renewable resources.  The fact of the matter is that for the data center operator, some of the options are compelling, some are possible but not very compelling, and others are compelling but not reasonably possible.

Wind Power for Data Centers

The challenge in using green energy alternatives such as wind or solar power in data centers is power density.   Data centers consume a lot of power with respect to their physical footprint, so they need very large solar arrays or large wind turbine farms to generate the necessary power for the facility.  Consequently, the amount of time required to reach the positive ROI point with the solar or wind power equipment is typically quite long.  This economic detail is often the inflection point for deciding whether to apply green energy alternatives in the data center plan.

Where should we build that data center?

When launching a new data center build project, where the data center will be located is a fundamental issue. There are many factors in deciding where the data center will be, but all of these factors can arguably be consolidated into two issues- Risk and Cost.

We mention risk in terms of Risk Management. Even if a data center is not specifically a disaster recovery site, many issues involving the physical location of the data center are evaluated to assess risk to availability of the equipment and data that would reside there. For example, exposure to environmental threats such as flooding, storms, earthquakes, and so on is often evaluated. Man-made environmental threats such as proximity to chemical plants, railways, gas lines, and so on are included here too. Risk management evaluations will also consider factors such as local crime rate, political stability, and threats from war or terrorism. For a security and risk management professional, this list is long, but any risk exposure is also prioritized and weighted for pragmatic consideration when evaluating site selection for a data center.

The Resilient Dynamic Data Center

I attended the 2009 IT Roadmap Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this week and sat in on the presentation by Johna Till Johnson of Nemertes Research, entitled “Building a Resilient Dynamic Data Center.” The presentation was a summary of hundreds of hours of discussions with data center operators and enterprises with data centers.

The information was summarized and presented in the framework of trends- from old to new. Of the data centers investigated, the ages were approximately 18 years old and the youngest around eight years old.

Beginning with the older sites, this vintage data center was built favoring reliability over responsiveness to change or business agility. The rate of growth within the data center was low, HVAC and power were relatively static, and there was little network infrastructure.

AFCOM Data Center Institute: The Economic Downturn and its Impact on IT

In the Data Center World keynote address in Orlando, Florida today, four distinguished panelists shared the results of Data Center Institute (DCI) research on the impact of the economic downturn on the data center.  This research was conducted over a number of months through surveys of enterprise data centers across the AFCOM membership.

There are four clear indicators that emerged from this research:

Container Data Centers: A Step Along the Green Path

As a bit of background and at the risk of stating the obvious, let’s quickly review some basics about energy efficiency and the Data Center.  It has been estimated that on average, electricity costs account for over 40% of data center operational expenses.  In 2006, American data centers consumed more electricity than all the televisions in America.  The cost to power a typical server now exceeds the cost to buy it, when viewed over a three-year horizon.  Data Centers typically operate more than 2.5 times the cooling capacity needed to maintain the IT equipment.  On average, less than 50% of the cool air in a chilled-air data center actually makes it to the IT equipment.

Those first few points are likely already well understood by the reader, or are at least consistent with other similar metrics quoted in the Green dialogue.  The last one, which speaks to the challenges of efficiently cooling IT equipment, is what I’d like to talk about in more depth.

Container Data Centers – Hard to Sell or Hard to Buy?

Earlier this year we talked about 2008 being a breakout year for container data centers. We’ve also discussed new developments and new product introductions by the container vendors as well as a number of established and emerging use cases.¬† It would appear though that the launch of container sales has yet to get underway.¬† In spite of the slow start, I continue to believe there are many good use cases for container data centers, and I see these as a momentum-builder for modular data center construction concepts (which are sorely needed).

We’ve recently begun work on an all-container data center concept for a new data processing facility to be located on the East Coast of the USA.¬† In the process of this work, I’ve reached out to all the container vendors I know of (Rackable Systems, Verari, Sun, HP, Dell, IBM, Lampertz) for capability and pricing information for potential inclusion of those products in this new project.¬† The experience I’ve had over the past month with these purchase inquiries shows that one of the obstacles to the breakout potential may simply be the difficulty in buying these products.