Energy Efficiency Improvements Need Not Be So Tough

This week, I had the pleasure of touring a data center developed and operated by a provider that has sites in only two cities in the US so far.  I’m intentionally not mentioning the name of the provider, but would like to share some of the things they’re doing that impressed me.  I was impressed because these are basic energy efficiency and capacity optimization features that for many larger providers, are deliberated to the point of indecision, but for these guys are done almost casually and with ease.

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.

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.

Can I raise the tier level of my Data Center?

So many discussions with prospective Clients begin with the subject of data center tier ratings. Many companies are struggling with data center facilities that no longer adequately serve their Business, and are seeking a path toward better scalability, availability, security, and lower cost of ownership.

In the mid-market segment, while there are exceptions to the rule to be sure, most often I find enterprise data centers that are in need of help.   The staff supporting these spaces is always top-notch and very committed to doing the right thing all the time, but an accumulation of circumstances has created a data center environment in which few would be proud.

While we could talk about many problems nearly universally found in these enterprise data centers (hint- MEP capacity limitations, cable-clogging under raised floors, thermal management,…), the problem most often mentioned by the CIO has to do with the misalignment of the data center tier rating to the Business.

Paint Your Moose Green

In these times of economic stagnation, IT leaders’ attention turns to cost savings.   Indeed in times like these, the CFO is likely exerting strong authority and demanding budget concessions from departments across the enterprise.

Many companies are aggressively consolidating data centers as one way to address this demand.   There are a number of significant cost savings opportunities with data center consolidation, in spite of the complexity involved in successfully executing a consolidation plan.   Many of those, in turn, come from savings due to increased efficiencies of operation as compared to the pre-consolidated state of affairs.   In particular, we’re talking about efficiencies from removing redundancy of maintenance costs, and centralized control of operational and support expenses.