The Art of Rackonomics - Part II

Julius Neudorfer

At the end of my previous 'Rackonomics' post, I was about to see if I would remain as the consultant on a new project, after I explained the real cost of a 'First Class' data center to a new client's senior management.

You see, their architect, a very fine fellow, who was very good at designing elegant corporate lobbies, decided that he could also design the client's data center. He saw that the client's IT department had been using two post racks in several server/wiring closets and therefore assumed that that was what they were going to use for their new data center. Moreover, senior management was very pleased with the way the lobby looked.

He (and they) had also assumed that since IT had been using two post racks in the server closets (they never had a data center before), the architect was 'on the money' since he had crammed all of the 60 new racks into only 1,000 square feet of space. 

I was retained 'just as a double check,' since the IT department could not really provide power and cooling requirements or any meaningful future projections for their first real data center. You see, they were going from 12 racks, spread across three wiring closets, and management told them the firm would grow 'five fold' and therefore they should plan accordingly.

I decided that I needed to raise the 'red flag' and give the client a straightforward view of what I thought their new data center with 60 racks should be: at least 2,000 square feet, in a clean, open rectangular space (the architect had allocated approximately 1,000 square feet in a somewhat U-shaped space of various dimensions, with all the odd-shaped spaces caused by the curved lobby wall). Power would be based on a central, modular UPS (N+1), starting at 150KW with the capacity to grow to 500KW, with redundant power distribution, and redundant PDUs in each cabinet (enclosed cabinets, not two post racks).

Cooling would be modular, close-coupled row-based units using chilled water. This design would allow this 2,000-square-foot, 60-cabinet data center to start at 125 KW (~65w/sf - 2 kw per rack) but efficiently grow to 500KW (250w/sf - 8 kw per rack) as, and if, needed. (I saw their eyes glaze over, so there was no point in trying to explain Tier Levels, redundancy, etc., as well as my PUE projections.)

Now for the cost. The 'day one' projected baseline costs came to about $1,200,000, equaling only $600 per square foot. That was very low, in my mind, but the client almost had a coronary. They did not want to hear that typical costs run $10,000 per KW. I tried to explain that this was much lower than the typical cost of a fully built-out 500KW (or over-built) small data center. Data center space is commonly expressed as dollars per square foot, or per KW. I even suggested that they did not need '5 times' the 12 racks they had-perhaps the IT department (three guys trying to hang on to their jobs), would be better served with 25 higher-density racks in a 1,000-square-foot space, but the total price would almost be the same.

However, I also like to think in terms of cost per rack, hence 'Rackonomics,' so it came out to 'only' $20,000 per rack. (Note, that was for the standard black rack; the gold-plated one was more). The bottom line of Rackonomics is surprising to most people, even those familiar with data centers. The typical cost of most cabinet bare racks ranges from $1,000-$2,000, but the 'real cost' is 10-20 times that when all the build-out capital costs are considered (a dedicated Tier IV could easily top $50,000 per 5 KW rack). So perhaps it makes sense to start planning more carefully about what you put into each rack, since each 1U space is worth more than you thought. Consider effective use, and start making make the most of each rack, and of course, the energy that the IT equipment will use.

Note, many people use the terms 'rack' and 'cabinet' interchangeably (including myself) in general references to data centers. So even though I am really referring to 'enclosed IT equipment cabinets,' I liked the sound of 'Rackonomics" much better than 'cabonomics,' which sounded like I might have to leave a tip.

And just in case you were wondering, the client is now more confused about the new data center and is looking for 'another second opinion,' but they are still going with the impressive new lobby. So remember, when you are called in as a 'second opinion,' take heed of what and who you are 'second guessing.'

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