Building a Better Data Center

Arthur Cole

Are big changes coming to the data center? Not to the systems and technologies in the center, mind you, but in the actual physical infrastructure of the building itself?


That seems to be the conclusion of some market researchers, who are predicting that cost-cutting and competitive pressures are making the current generation of centers obsolete, fast. Gartner, for example, sees major disruptions at more than 70 percent of data centers in the United States by 2011 as new high-density hardware systems exceed current building design specifications, resulting in sky-high heating and cooling costs.


But the prospect of rebuilding or retrofitting a data center isn't all that appealing either, according to Art Wittman and Ron Anderson in Information Week. Today's center was designed to deliver about 50 watts per square foot, a rate that could jump to 500 watts per square foot in the near future. A draw like that could produce an energy bill 50 times the cost of the building itself.


Modular designs may be the way to go. Although most data environments consist of largely specialized hardware and software relationships, over time it usually ends up as an aesthetic and operational nightmare. A standardized, modular data center, such as Rackable Systems' Integrated Concentro Environment, can be custom-tailored to your specifications and still provide a 50 percent cut in facility and energy costs.


Other technologies could also be coming to the rescue. Things like rack-based cooling could eliminate the need for raised flooring, and advances in such basic elements as cabling are starting to focus on energy costs. Quellan Inc. and W.L. Core and Associates just came out with a new copper interconnect that reduces the amount of cabling needed, improving air flow and lowering power consumption.


The other good news is that leading corporations are starting to take the plunge by investing in next-gen green datacenters -- witness HP's Greenfield project and Sun's new facility near its Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters. The rest of us will soon have a set of templates revealing what went right and what went wrong. This article in eWEEK is a bit disingenuous when it promises only "5 Steps to a Scalable Data Center," but it's a start.


One thing is abundantly clear, though: greening up the data center is not a job for IT alone. It will take input from all elements of the organization -- from the front office to the mail room -- to ensure that it meets all your environmental and business needs. With this much money at stake, you really only have one shot.

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