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Fresh Thinking on IT Operations for 100,000 Industry Executives

Around this time, analysts at ESG pull together a ten point list of predictions for the coming year. One of my areas of coverage and of expertise is in the Data Center around power, cooling, reliability and economics. So what’s different this year from prior years?

Strengthening fundamental drivers will likely make 2010 materially different from previous years for data centers. These drivers include continued increases in the cost of power, lack of investment in new general-purpose facilities during the recent economic crisis, and the continued drive for higher density implementations. Poor-quality data centers will become increasingly uncompetitive and costly to run. This development, combined with lack of new capacity ready to come on-stream, will drive up costs significantly. This combined with an accelerating economic recovery are going to make 2010 interesting.

The fixed (tiers) definition of what a data center should be has been becoming less relevant for some time. Over the course of 2010 it will become apparent that there are many valid alternate designs that can deliver service whilst continuing to be reliable, but improving on operational and capital costs. A number of newer (or reintroduced) approaches will start to become important and gain market share. Among the trends I will be following in 2010:

IBM Coldplate Cooling

IBM Coldplate Cooling

  1. The gradual migration towards liquid cooling will commence with strong leadership from IBM with the launch of the Z11 mainframe with water cooled options. The massive efficiency benefit of liquids – being some 4,000 times more efficient than air at removing heat – will drive adoption for the highest density deployments such as HPC (high-performance computing) and mainframe first, followed by general purpose computing later.
  2. Conventional lead acid battery strings combined with UPS (uninterruptible power supply) will give way to flywheels for AC power protection implementations. Sustainability and efficiency gains make this inevitable in the developed world with increasing government regulation around the proper disposal of heavy metals.
  3. The raised floor will begin to become unnecessary as cooling, power and data feeds start to be supplied from above for most new installations. Raised floors have always been problematic, especially in the area of maximum static and rolling load. Furthermore, pushing cold air from below the floor has always been a sub-optimal design. Cables and power feeds are much easier maintained if delivered from above.
  4. DC power options will start to become more common on IT equipment with many forward-thinking data centers offering optional AC or DC power feeds. This will leverage the higher efficiency of DC power delivery and inherent reliability.
  5. Converged edge networks with smart switching driven by FCoE will reduce the need for manual patch configurations and change the layout of the data center. The edge will be located in-row and at the top of cabinets. The number of cables will reduce dramatically but the criticality of connectivity will increase.
  6. Increasing levels of server, storage and network virtualization will continue, mopping up what remains of the development and test platforms and gradually moving into the critical production application space driven by tight integration between the application and hypervisor. Operational flexibility rather than efficiency will be the main driver for change in the critical application space, overcoming the inertia of risk-averse CIOs.
  7. Reliability will continue to migrate towards the application layer, reducing the dependency on data center infrastructure. Critical prerequisites will be high-performance networks and de-duplication technology that enable rapid migration of data between sites.
  8. Data centers move to different locales. Choosing a data center site because it is close to corporate headquarters will no longer be viable as real-estate and power cost constraints will restrict city-center data centers to latency sensitive applications only.
  9. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant will replace backup generators (engines) in many city center locations as the global lack of investment in electrical power grids continues to hamper growth of latency-sensitive application hosting.
  10. Demand for co-location data centers will begin to tail off in demand and be replaced by data centers hosting IT as a service offering as business migrate to cloud computing models.
Flywheel for UPS Support

Flywheel for UPS Support

Data center investments are long term bets and as a result, change can appear to take a long time to materialize. Data center capacity of the right type is becoming scarce as demand continues to increase at the exact same time as an industry-wide a lack of investment in new capacity due to the economic downturn. As the macroeconomic recovery continues to accelerate, the latency caused by lengthy data center building and fit out will exacerbate scarcity.

The outcomes are likely to be:

  • Much more aggressive take-up of alternative and more power-efficient technologies at the mechanical & electrical layer in a desperate attempt to control costs at existing facilities
  • Customers demanding increasingly tight integration between applications and virtualization to improve agility
  • Older data center sites becoming increasingly uncompetitive – forcing reductions in depreciation cycles – as refresh becomes critical to remaining in business