Your Next Data Center

The past two years have brought an explosion of activity in the area of data center facilities. On the provider side, we can talk about services we expect from the Cloud.¬† The proliferation of XaaS, exponential growth of content for Web 2.0 services, and the interest in Cloud-based services by the Enterprise drives demand for storage and utility-style computing services.¬† Providers of these services are expanding their facilities’ footprints at an impressive rate.

For the enterprise, Business demand for IT resources has stressed the resources of enterprise IT facilities both above and below the white space.

At the turn of the century, it was common to plan IT facilities using the Watts per Square Foot (W/SF) model.  We saw data centers operating comfortably at 50 W/SF in those days, and if you had a generator backup you felt pretty good about availability.  Things have changed drastically.

We now talk about the tier-level rating of data centers to align facility availability with the operating model of the Business.¬† We focus much attention on the TIA-942 and Uptime Institute guidelines for redundancy and topology of MEP systems.¬† Instead of the W/SF planning metric we use kilowatt-per-rack (kW/rack) because it’s much more relevant to how we deploy technology today.¬† The density of silicon in the data processing footprint is constantly increasing, which is driving power and cooling demand of the facility.

In 2003, we saw power density levels already at 4kW/rack.  By 2005, when blade servers first began to be a common site in the data center, 9kW/rack was common.  Today as those systems are seen as more of a standard building block, 20-50kW/rack is becoming common.  An enterprise IT facility built before 2005 very likely cannot support this level of demand.

Still, the growth of the Business and evolution of data processing systems is outpacing the capacity of IT facilities, and something must be done in order to continue to scale the IT capabilities.

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.

Update on Cargo Ship Data Centers

I promised an update on the progress of the ship-based data center concept floated (yes a pun) by International Data Security (IDS). A recent post on Silverback’s blog explains that the first launch (perhaps a pun) is now delayed until Q3 of 2008, and gives a few more details.

IDS continues to see the ship-based data center concept as a lucrative opportunity, given the continued demand for data center space, the notion that ship-based data centers can reduce the time to market by as much as 65% and that the Cap-Ex is estimated to be a third less than a comparable brick and mortar facility.

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.

A Quick Primer on Data Center Tier Ratings

For those of you who are regular visitors to this blog, this topic may seem rather basic.  However, I was recently asked to write an article on this subject and thought that if it’s good enough for that venue then perhaps someone will find benefit in reading here as well.  So here are some highlights from that piece-

Clients often come to us for help with data center consolidation or new data center implementation projects.  The discussion quickly comes around to the appropriate “Tier Level” for their IT facilities.  What we’re talking about here (to a large extent) is an industry standard way of describing the availability of the data center facility.  Availability, in this case, is referring to the degree to which the facility can support constant uninterrupted operation of the contained data processing systems.

We know that the systems themselves can be architected with high-availability configurations.  Autonomous failover of network connections, clustered server environments, and so on are ways that the systems can sustain operation even if, say, a server crashes.  What the Tier Levels of a data center refer to though, is the capability of the facility itself to support the systems it serves.  Utility power can fail, the temperature in the building can rise to cause damage to equipment, and so on.  These are facilities issues, and are the foundation upon which any amount of data processing fault-tolerance stands.

More Thoughts on Container Data Centers

In earlier posts and conversations, I’ve mentioned my interest in container data centers and the opportunities they bring for certain types of implementations and use cases. As a big fan of agility in IT in order to meet the dynamic demands of the Business, containers can be a valuable weapon in the arsenal.

In my conversations with Clients about the applicability of containers to their data center roadmaps, I often find myself involved in philosophical debates.  Part of this is due to the newness of the technology as well as preconceived notions of use cases for containers.  Part too, is due to the real fact that containers are very strong solutions in some use cases, and more of a strategic option to be evaluated in others.