Data Center

Bernard Geoghegan (UK) - Tomorrow's Data Centre - What are we Looking For?

According to IDC, the ‘large monolithic data centre is dead, and within five years the modular model will become almost the default approach'. Like the early days of car manufacturing, which moved from handmade models to production line manufacture, the data centre industry is moving towards a pre-fabricated approach. What are companies looking for tomorrow? Can modularity really offer the best future benefits?

Today, the highest operating expense in a data centre is power. Keeping this cost down is becoming increasingly crucial to organisations' profitability and a key concern for data centre managers, CFOs and CIOs. Over ten years the typical split of a facility's expenditure is around 45% on building it out, 55% on operating; of which 60% is spent on the power required to run it. Carbon tax, like the UK's Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), will put further pressure on energy cost in the future and innovation is paramount.

I've seen the operating temperature of the data centre change over time to address this market need. ASHRAE guidelines previously dictated that a data centre should operate between 20°C and 25°C. In 2008, these temperatures moved to 18°C and 27°C. A change of 2°C can make a considerable difference to a data centre's bottom line and I believe these boundaries need to be pushed in the future to drive energy costs down. Surprisingly, I still come across older data centres that have been slow to adapt to market needs such as requiring high density computing. Companies are now looking at power ratios to improve energy efficiency though. Power usage effectiveness (PUE) is now used to measure the ratio of the total amount of power used by a facility, to the power delivered to IT equipment. More recently, water usage effectiveness (WUE) is increasingly an area for scrutiny in the data centre world.

Real estate efficiency and capacity planning are also at the forefront of companies' minds - changing capex to opex to increase the value of their businesses. It is almost impossible to predict future IT demands so organisations are looking for ways to increase IT capacity, when needed. Containers don't seem to be a viable solution to meeting these requirements as enterprise-grade data centre solutions. Traditional builds are often created as one-offs, not having the rigour, testing or quality that modular data centres can provide, making them less robust. Additionally, companies want heterogeneous data centres - ones that can marry older systems with newer ones. Organisations can then build on IT heritage to meet their business and future growth needs.

Hot and cold aisle layouts, first conceived by Dr Bob Sullivan in 1992, and more recently, hot and cold aisle containment to improve airflow, has now become the de facto standard in new, modular data centre designs, driving down power costs. Some modular data centres in the UK can run without mechanical chillers for over 80% of the year. More efficient layouts with the help of airflow tools like computational fluid dynamics (CFD) will play an increasingly crucial role in meeting future green IT needs. General adoption of this technology will become mainstream, while newer, even more efficient methods of cooling, are continually being developed. Modular data centre developers are striving to push PUE down by installing state-of-the-art cooling equipment, adopting cold aisle containment and using outside air economisation, amongst other innovations.

One concern, however, is pushing PUE down towards ‘1' can mean WUE is increasing. Newer, modular designs can be highly water efficient too though - far removed from some traditional data centres that often had one computer room air conditioning (CRAC) unit dehumidifying, while another was humidifying at the same time. Such innovative providers are striving to reduce WUE and PUE even further to make facilities increasingly energy efficient in the future. Crucially, modular builds are pre-designed and tested in a factory allowing for deployment on demand, a substantial future need.

Overall, it makes sense for the future data centre to be a modular one - it's more flexible, future proof, scalable and energy efficient than using containers and traditional data centre builds. These are the qualities that businesses are looking for in the data centre of tomorrow and the industry must respond accordingly.

By Bernard Geoghegan, evp at Colt Technology Services


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