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Data Centers

April 01, 2011

The Data Center and IT Infrastructure

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of InfoTECH SPOTLIGHT

This report is an excerpt published within The 451 Group’s (News - Alert) Market Insight Service, one of a series of data center-themed reports leading up to the Uptime Institute’s 2011 Symposium, “The Disrupted Data Center: Cloud, Cost, Capacity and Carbon,” being held May 9-12, 2011 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Energy and eco-efficiency issues have been growing in important in data centers for at least three years, increasingly driving decisions about infrastructure design, cooling and location. In 2010, operators unveiled a series of innovations as they pushed hard to reduce both capital and operating costs associated with energy.

In 2011, this trend will continue as more data centers announce average PUE (power usage effectiveness) ratios below the 1.5 mark, a benchmark energy efficiency number below which a marketing executive mighty make a claim of “greenness.” They will achieve this using at least three techniques or technologies that have become commonplace in new designs: preconfigured designs and modularity; free air and evaporative cooling; and strict hot air/cold air separation.

None of these technologies are new – data center designers have been incorporating these for at least two decades. There is, however, an important new trend underway that is likely to accelerate in 2011 and beyond: the increasing productization of data centers, with even greater use of pre-configuration, modularity, and growing integration with the IT layer. There are also signs that the use of container data centers, a method of packaging these preconfigured data centers in customized shipping containers, will be more widely accepted than many had thought until recently.

There has never been doubt in the data center industry about the value of a modular approach, because owners are able to equip, power and cool the data center in incremental units, according to demand, saving capital and operating costs. The debate in 2011 is now as much about price, marketing, supply chains and the ability to deliver as it is about technology.

Until now, the discussion around preconfigured designs has been about comparing modular designs with traditional approaches; in the years ahead, we believe there will also be much greater comparison between the approaches and packaging of the major suppliers. Associated with this development there will be much greater use of cloud services, particularly infrastructure as a service (IaaS), both to resolve data center capacity issue and as a long-term, strategic way to deliver IT.

Cloud computing is a huge and disruptive opportunity for all suppliers of commercial services, whose markets will open up if they exploit the technology effectively and are able to offer storage, processing and operating platforms on demand (rather than after a long planning and sales cycle.) But cloud is an equally disruptive force for enterprise data center owners who will find that as often as not, cloud services are more economical, more flexible and more energy- and resource-efficient than in-house IT.

The next major development in eco-efficient data centers is at a much earlier stage. At present, even the most advanced data centers are not highly optimized for energy or resource use – not from hour to hour, or even day to day. The low PUE numbers belie the fact that, with all the associated overhead capital and operating overhead, there is almost always a lot more IT running than is necessary. The ideal is that the use of IT is scaled up and down according to demand, and when it is not used, it is put into very low-power states.

We do not expect dramatic breakthroughs in this area in 2001; the move to autonomic and optimized eco-efficient data centers will take several years, if not decades. By any standard, there are some big technical challenges involved, spanning environmental and energy monitoring, dependency analysis, virtualization management, power management, load balancing, application monitoring and management and systems management. We do expect, however, to see a series of products and alliance announcements as suppliers begin to address this area.

For data center infrastructure management and energy management software suppliers, the move toward more dynamic architectures will help drive interest and sales, and we now see this sector as entering a high-growth phase. The few suppliers with server power management products will also be very well-positioned, although they will need to make more alliance to secure widespread adoption.

Andy Lawrence, Andrew Donoghue and John Stanley (News - Alert) are analysts with The 451 Group, an independent think tank serving the global data center industry. For more information on the Uptime Institute Symposium 2011, go to http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/


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Edited by Stefania Viscusi