Ed Spears April 11, 2012
With companies relying on IT more heavily than ever, data center capacity requirements are steadily rising. Unfortunately, so are the costs associated with data center construction and operation. As a result, organizations are increasingly searching for ways to reduce the size of their data centers without compromising their ability to meet business requirements.
The good news is that companies interested in following the trend toward smaller data centers can employ a wide range of techniques to shrink their computing footprint. IT consolidation is best approached by a combination of three primary strategies, design-level, white space and grey space. By employing a combination of strategies in each area, data center managers can not only make the most out of available footprint, but also assure mission-critical systems always have the clean, reliable electricity they need to drive long-term success.
Part one of this series discussed design-level strategies for IT consolidation; the following will recommend six white space tactics for shrinking the size of your data center without shrinking its operating capacity, availability or efficiency.
1. Utilize virtualization: Virtualizing and consolidating servers enables data centers to conserve floor space by replacing large numbers of lightly utilized devices with a smaller number of heavily utilized devices.
Consolidating storage resources through virtualization can similarly reduce a data center’s footprint by enabling it to house more data in less hardware. Leading-edge power companies can now integrate seamlessly with virtualization management systems like vCenter of VMware or SCVMM of Microsoft to enable live migration of virtual machines in case of power events. This is a significant improvement over the legacy server shutdown capability that is no longer addressing the need for business continuity which is inherent of any fully-virtualized environment. UPSs and advanced power management systems integrate seamlessly with software from VMware, Microsoft and other manufacturers to coordinate automatic migration or shutdown and infrastructure management in a virtual environment.
2. Deploy blade servers: Often used in conjunction with virtualization, blade servers are plug-and-play processing units with shared power feeds, power supplies, fans, cabling and storage. By compressing large amounts of computing capacity into small amounts of space, blade servers can dramatically reduce data center floor space requirements. They also enhance IT agility, since companies can simply plug in additional blades any time their processing needs grow.
3. Leverage cloud computing: In an effort to lower overhead and increase IT efficiency, businesses around the world are rapidly adopting cloud computing solutions. Indeed, some 15 percent of all IT spending in 2011 will be tied to cloud services or infrastructure, according to analyst firm IDC.
Cloud computing can help organizations shrink their data centers in several ways. By offloading applications and infrastructure to externally hosted “public” cloud data centers that use the public Internet to exchange data, companies can reduce the number of servers they must own and maintain in their own facilities. Alternatively, businesses can deploy “private” cloud solutions that utilize the same basic technologies as the public cloud but reside on privately owned or leased servers. Through the sophisticated use of virtualization and automation, private clouds dramatically raise server utilization rates, thereby lowering floor space requirements.
4. Leverage capacity planning and asset management tools: Deploying more server and power resources than is necessary wastes floor space, but determining exactly how much capacity is required can be difficult, especially if virtual servers or a private cloud infrastructure are used. Capacity planning and asset management tools can help size a data center optimally for current and near-term needs, saving money while trimming the physical footprint.
5. Implement a passive cooling scheme: Today, most organizations dissipate data center heat by placing computer room air conditioning (CRAC) units around the periphery of their server floor. Unfortunately, CRAC-based cooling systems are often incapable of handling the greater power densities and temperatures associated with technologies such as virtualization and blade servers.
As a result, some companies are now investigating or implementing in-row liquid cooling systems, which take up floor space that could otherwise be dedicated to IT equipment. By utilizing a hot or cold aisle containment strategy instead of in-row cooling, data center managers can fit more server racks in their existing data halls while keeping operating temperatures at safe levels. One such strategy would be a passive cooling system, which can come in many different types; the most efficient enclosures are equipped with a sealed rear door and chimney that captures hot exhaust air from servers and vents it directly back into the return air ducts on CRAC units. The CRAC units then chill the exhaust air and re-circulate it. A properly designed passive cooling system can cost-effectively prevent even the densest, hottest server racks from overheating. Furthermore, some passive cooling schemes don’t require raised floors, enabling companies to conserve the space formerly dedicated to maintaining air flow beneath their server enclosures.
6. Switch from disk-based storage to static storage technologies: Though they currently account for a small fraction of storage hardware sales, static storage systems are slowly gaining popularity among enterprise IT managers. Such devices save data on solid-state memory chips, much like a USB memory stick. Though generally more expensive than conventional memory technologies, static storage systems are also dramatically faster, more energy-efficient and more reliable, since they contain no moving parts. In addition, static storage devices tend to be more compact than disk-based storage systems, so deploying them can help businesses save storage-related floor space in their data center. Tape-based archiving systems are also being impacted by cloud providers offering low-cost archiving storage at their facilities, something that can lead to reduction of equipment on the data center floor and still provide some type of disaster-proofing with data stored in another location.
Today’s IT and facilities managers face a difficult bind: Though computing needs are constantly escalating, so is the cost per square foot of data center space and the price of critical supporting resources such as electricity and water.
Fortunately, there are many ways to compact a data center while still meeting business requirements. Most of them, moreover, are proven and cost-effective options for companies of almost any size. By following the white space recommendations outlined above, and the design-level strategies discussed in part one of this series, you can get more done in less space and position your company to meet its IT requirements with maximum cost effectiveness. Stay tuned for part three of the series, grey space consolidation strategies, for a complete guide to getting the most out of your physical footprint.