Exploring data center design innovations
by Mirko Zorz - Editor in Chief - Tuesday, 18 December 2012.
Several design and operations best practices have emerged, too, to make data centers greener. Modern designs incorporate higher voltage power distribution, outside air for cooling and isolated hot- and cold-aisle containment and many other strategies to optimize energy efficiency.

What are some of the features a modern data center can’t do without?

A reliable standby infrastructure system to ensure high availability. Monitoring tools to manage system efficiency. Flexible infrastructure to accommodate technology changes in the future. The green best practices I just mentioned, such as isolated airflow distribution. Security measures and change controls to protect hardware and applications from intentional threats and accidental downtime.

Virtualization and unified computing are important, too. People might not think of those as data center design elements, but they have a big influence on a room. You increase CPU utilization and get more computing done through fewer devices, which reduces energy consumption and can allow you to dramatically streamline your infrastructure.

What start-up advice would you give to an organization interested in building a small data center?

Plan ahead. Whatever your initial requirements are for data center space, power and cooling they’ll increase over time. You’ll want to have strategies in place to accommodate future demand.

Understand how you want to use your data center, too. Do you need a highly available, lights-out room that few people enter and where changes rarely occur? Or do you need a dynamic environment where hardware is frequently swapped out and changes happens all the time? Those very different operationally, and you’ll want to design the data center appropriately.

Also, build the room to be as flexible as possible. New technology is going to come along and you want your data center to be adaptable.

What features would you like to see implemented in the data center of the future?

These aren’t necessarily practical, but someday I would like to see:

1. An application that monitors data center infrastructure and shows in real-time how a facility’s resources are being consumed. I want to see power consumption, temperatures and airflow patterns, connections between devices, CPU utilization, occupied rack space and even weight loads on the floor. As new hardware needs to be installed, I want the application to recommend the most efficient place to add future gear – much like a chess program can recommend your best move in a game.

2. The capability to shift processing load among multiple data centers around the world, so energy is consumed at whichever facility has the best conditions at that time. Move demand to a site where it is nighttime and power prices are low or a facility where alternative energy source is temporarily available.

3. Wireless connectivity. Do away with all of the patch cords and structured cabling used in data centers.

4. Computing on demand. Idle servers consume a lot of energy without doing any useful work. Keep those systems completely powered down until they’re needed.

What are some of the interesting facts you discovered while writing The Art of the Data Center?

I’ll touch on three:

Phoenix is a pretty good place for data centers. It’s not the first location that comes to mind for most people because it gets so hot, but two of the sites I profile are there. One of the facilities even employs outside air for cooling, which flies in the face of the assumption that you need a chilly climate to use that technology.

Streamlining data center infrastructure not only cuts costs but perhaps downtime, too. Many companies assume you need more physical infrastructure to achieve greater availability, but more than one data center designer I interviewed said doing away with infrastructure can be helpful because there are then fewer components to fail.

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