Future on the rack

Future on the rack

Do current power densities need an urgent solution or are they just a necessary evil on the road to technology evolution? ARN recently brought together a panel of industry experts to discuss a range of datacentre issues.

Brian Corrigan, ARN (BC): Datacentre power densities are increasing, due to the increased uptake of blade servers and SAN systems, while electricity costs are quickly growing. Is the industry headed for a crisis and, if so, what can be done about it?

Ronnie Altit, Dimension Data (RA): I had a conversation with a senior Gartner analyst recently who suggested there would only be blade servers [in the datacentre] within three years. Whether or not that’s the case, their presence is increasing and customers are trying to plan for the datacentre of the future. How can you grow your datacentre as need grows, rather than taking the monolithic approach that throws huge numbers of CRACs [Computer Room Air Conditioners] in the corners, and scale up or scale back as required. I don’t think we’re headed for disaster – it’s about planning now to make sure that short-term decisions underpin long-term strategies.

Kevin McIsaac, IBRS (KM): One of the problems is that we only have a vision of where things are going for about three years. The lifespan of a datacentre is about 25 years so how do you build something that’s going to be able to cope with the incredible changes that take place during that time.

Paul Harapin, VMware (PH): We’re in a period of tremendous change and whatever the world looks like in 10 years we know for a fact it’s going to be dramatically different from the way it is today – carbon emission trading is going to force everything up, demand for compute power is increasing, demand for electrical power is increasing at a higher exponential rate. Those types of commercial pressures force innovation into the market.

Gordon Makryllos, APC (GM): The biggest challenge is that there’s great innovation but most customers can’t take it on. Most datacentres are lucky to have 2-3kW per rack so they can’t take all the new storage, virtualisation, blade servers and communication equipment. All of those datacentres have to be turned over to take on the extra power and cooling. Energy legislation to reduce carbon footprint is going to accelerate those issues.

Dylan Morrison, Cisco (DM): The traditional model has been ‘accidental architecture’ where one business unit gets some equipment and puts it in a rack. That was fine a couple of years ago when we were using under 2kW per rack but that’s blown out of the water when you put a blade chassis in. I’ve seen datacentres that financial companies are moving into today that are provisioned for 2-3kW. That’s ludicrous when you consider how things are getting denser and the power requirements of that smaller footprint. It used to be that space was our problem but now it’s heat and power. The infrastructure around our cities is not coping with it either; substations don’t have enough power to feed into these datacentres. There’s a range of problems and that’s forcing companies to take an holistic view. Companies now have enterprise architecture teams making decisions about the datacentre. There’s great technology available but it needs a change in processes. Until now, CEOs and CIOs have been viewing this as a social or economic issue because they have to be seen to be green but CFOs are getting power bills that are up there with their labour costs. David Webster, EMC (DW): The CIO didn’t used to care about information; he used to care about technology and there were islands of it. The datacentre never showed up as a P&L item. If you look at the changes that have occurred in the past 25 years it’s not surprising that infrastructure hasn’t kept up. There has been no focus on managing a datacentre in terms of power, cooling, footprint or cost efficiency. We’re not suddenly going to find a solution – the reality is that the rise of information and the need to do stuff with it is going to keep advancing. The problem is not only a technology one. It’s a combination of business process, management, technology and education. I think it’s a small speed bump and in two years we won’t be looking at datacentre problems; we’ll be looking at the mobility of cloud computing and whether or not people can have access to information. Users don’t care about the datacentre.

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