For many companies, a data center has become a necessity. Whether your company is considering building its own stand-alone data center or renting space in a colocation center, there are some recent trends to consider.
“The trends happening fall down different lines,” says Tim Chadwick, president of Alfa Tech. “There are some commonalities that happen on both sides, but things that work for the enterprise market don’t always work in the colocation world.”
Smart Business spoke with Chadwick about what companies should watch for in the changing market for data centers.
What are the latest data center trends in the market?
The major trend right now in designing, building and operating data centers is improving energy efficiency — reducing the carbon footprint. The fringe benefit of this environmentalism is saving on utility costs.
In moving toward energy efficiency, what we’re able to do for enterprise customers is look at the specific equipment to be used — the specific types of computers, storage devices and networking equipment — and really tailor the space to that equipment. The best example of that is the air that enters the computer to cool it. With an enterprise customer who may know specifically what equipment he is going to buy, the designer of the data center can let that temperature go a lot hotter or colder, or the air more humid or dry than past data center designs allowed.
In the colocation market, the colocation facility’s owner rarely knows what his tenants will require. The whole point of being a colocation landlord is you want a facility that appeals to everybody. If you were to build a facility that could only house a type of computer that can take hotter air, you are limiting your market. So builders and designers of data centers don’t always have as much flexibility in colocation spaces. Enterprise spaces have more innovation, more things happening. But what’s happening in the enterprise market is starting to find its way into the colocation market.
How is the enterprise market driving the colocation market?
For instance, Facebook has proven that you can use most servers at higher inlet temperatures. Once you start to get people to realize that, there is a larger clientele that is willing to go into a data center (like a colocation space) with higher temperature ranges. Instead of always seeing facilities using 75-degree air, they might see 80 or 85 Fahrenheit. When you have those higher temperatures coming in, that is where you can achieve big energy savings. You are spending less to cool your computers and equipment. And sometimes you’re not spending anything; the data center could just be bringing in fresh air from outside.
Because it’s already happening in the enterprise market, more people are willing to try it in the colocation market. Ten years ago, the only lease people would sign up for was guaranteed 75-degree air going into your computer. Now more and more people are considering that the old way of thinking. As long as people are open-minded to go to a higher inlet temperature, the colocation owner can pass along the savings. If the facility is cheaper to build and operate, he can charge you less for rent.
What other trends are occurring?
There have been changes in electrical in regard to the power coming in. We are starting to see more variations on the voltage coming into servers. That opens up opportunities for energy efficiency, and it has led to a similar situation with the enterprise customers driving the market for those sharing and leasing data center space.
Once one enterprise customer buys a thousand servers at a previously unknown voltage, the price point comes down. If there is no demand, the supply price is high. If you can increase demand to where there is a viable market, Dell, HP, IBM — the big computer manufacturers — are starting to see a market in these different voltages, so the price point is coming down. If you can buy cheaper equipment and save energy, that is the best of both worlds.
How would a company know what voltage is necessary for its data center?
You can buy the same computing platforms at different voltages. It’s a matter of what type of infrastructure you are plugging into. If you are in the U.K., for example, the voltage is different than in the U.S. So you have to make sure your server can plug into that and absorb the different voltage. If you’re in a colocation market, you have to talk to your provider and find out the available voltages at his facility. If you’re in a purpose-built data center, you work with your consultant to figure it out and design around your needs.
However, companies need to find a balance. Everyone is trying to wring out every last cent from the design and construction, without realizing that if you can get the end customer to buy different voltage equipment, they could save 5 percent in annual energy costs, for example. That might be true, but that different voltage equipment might cost 10 percent more in capital costs.
It might be worth it. But when you compare 10 percent more in capital costs versus a 5 percent annual savings on energy, sometimes it just doesn’t pencil out. You have to be careful to look at the whole picture. Quite often, data centers are not designed holistically. They aren’t designed knowing what equipment is going to be in them.
The key to a good design is a good understanding of the equipment that will be used in the space.
Tim Chadwick is president of Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1278 or email@example.com.
The “gap” between facilities and IT organizations has become an industry standard term over the years. While some companies are making strides to overcome this challenge, most struggle with this issue. So, what is the gap? Simply stated, it is when two departments don’t see eye to eye, and in many cases don’t work well together.
Over the past few years there has been a surge in the need for high-capacity and high-density data center facilities to meet the growing demands to store and manage information. This is being driven in large part by social networking, social media and cloud computing services growing at unprecedented rates. Data centers, unlike any other portion of a company’s real estate portfolio, requires input and support from both facilities and IT management and staff.
“IT is in the business of managing information — how it flows at the application layer, how it is transported, processed and stored at the hardware layer, and how it is protected,” says Rich Garrison, senior principal of Alfa Tech. “That is done through a combination of server, storage and network infrastructure designed to deliver and manage information, which in today’s information age is the greatest asset of most companies. Facilities are all about managing the real estate portfolio, space, power and supporting infrastructure.”
Smart Business spoke with Garrison about how to create a more productive work environment in which these two departments can work more effectively together.
Why is there often a gap between facilities and IT?
The gap occurs because of several factors, most originating from the human element. First, IT and facilities speak different languages and often simply don’t understand each other’s needs and priorities. Another major contributor to the gap is that in most companies IT and facilities are two separate organizations with separate budgets, schedules and agendas with competing priorities.
Some companies have rolled up the two groups into one organization to help align the two groups. The fundamental problem is getting those groups on the same page — or even to speak to each another in some cases. This leads to the more subtle interpersonal issues, like pride and ego, that often get in the way. It’s common for power struggles to occur over who is controlling what, allowing both sides to lose focus on what is really in the company’s best interest.
What are some consequences of the gap?
Employees become frustrated. They get tired of beating their head against a wall, make poor decisions and often are forced to settle for solutions that really don’t meet the business’s needs with respect to capacity, reliability and scalability. IT has a history of asking for ‘more than they need’ when it comes to space, power and other facilities resources. This is often due to the fact that long–term requirements are unknown, yet IT must be able to support whatever comes along. Some of these unknown factors may include changes in technology, mergers and acquisitions, changes in the companies’ products or services to name a few. Facilities on the other hand are pressured to ensure that real estate assets are cost effective and operationally efficient. Therein lies the gap, a gap in priorities, business requirements, budgets and management support or direction.
At the end of the day, the company ends up suffering because it doesn’t get the right solution or it spends too much money getting a solution that meets the business’s needs. We have seen IT groups choose colocation simply so they can maintain control of the data center, not because it was the most cost-effective way to meet the company’s data center demands.
Today’s server, storage and network hardware platforms are forcing IT to understand more about power and cooling due to the significant increase in density in recent years. However, having IT staff responsible for planning or managing space, power and cooling is not always the best solution. They usually end up getting it wrong, which can result in unnecessary risks or even catastrophic failures of the data center facility itself by not understanding the underlying facilities infrastructure.
How can companies bridge the gap between facilities and IT?
In almost every instance where this gap is an issue, the companies lack a strategic plan for IT, facilities or both. When companies get serious about developing a formal data center strategy they get much closer to bridging this gap. One particular tool I’ve developed to help bridge the gap is the OPR (Owner Program Requirements) document. The purpose behind this document is to facilitate a process to get facilities and IT to stop thinking about technical solutions, take a step back and start thinking about the business requirements, corporate goals and objectives. It then looks at the functional requirements of both organizations necessary to meet these corporate objectives. Next is to define in their own language the supporting technical and operational needs of both organizations necessary to be successful. This collaborative approach to developing a strategy and plan has proven to be a successful method to begin to bridge this gap.
Getting the two organizations to collaborate and talk in their own languages while finding that common ground is the point of the OPR. It demystifies technology by defining the requirements in terms both IT and facilities groups can understand. For a new data center project, this can be expanded to include a set of design considerations and criteria, written in more technical language that designers and engineers need to understand.
When we see IT staff taking an active interest in understanding facility operations and facilities staff take an active interest in understanding IT requirements, the results have been positive and bring about successful projects that deliver cost-effective solutions for the companies they work for.
Rich Garrison is a senior principal with Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1209 or firstname.lastname@example.org.