Tuesday, February 05, 2008

PTS' 2008 Predictions for the Data Center Industry

I consider myself a veteran of the data center design industry. Additionally, I have the good fortune to visit as many as fifty data centers and computer rooms in the course of a year. And while I have seen good ones and bad ones, they all seem to share certain commonalities. As a result of my experiences and research covering a broad scope of concerns, I have compiled a list of the challenges the data center industry as a whole will face over the next few years.

The talent pool of senior level experts is disappearing. Worse yet, as a nation we have not educated tomorrow’s engineers and/or technicians. This severe lack of experts will be an ever present obstacle to sustainable corporate growth due to technology evolution. In turn, this threatens the nation’s overall economic growth and will cause the United States to fall as the technical leader of the world. Our only saving grace will be to embrace the new world order and adapt to global solutions.

The original equipment manufacturers will own the data center design space. This is their best recourse in maintaining an ability to sell their ever improving infrastructure to customers with old, out-dated, ill-prepared facilities. A further prediction is that it will be difficult for these OEMs to provide heterogeneous and not self-serving designs. And even if they can, will clients believe it to be so?

Big surprise, data centers and computer rooms nationwide are running out of power, cooling, and space. Furthermore, due to the high capital cost and the time it takes to undertake a computer room improvement project, operators will choose not to. My prediction is that this will lead to business impacting disruptions for at least 20% of businesses over the next three (3) years.

We will run out of utility power producing capacity as a nation before the technical revolution is over. Furthermore, no amount of ‘green’ building will prohibit this from inevitably happening. Like virtualization has been for processing capacity, ‘greenness’ is only an incremental band aid on the proverbial bullet wound. My prediction is that the U.S. will experience more wide area outages, such as the one in August of 2003, in the near future.

As the saying goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. We had better hope so. My final prediction is that our technological leadership as a nation will be saved not by a band aid application, by a grassroots conservation effort, or by sheer will alone. Ultimately, it will be saved by a sweeping improvement in the efficiency of how power is used by IT infrastructure. Materials research within the semiconductor industry will yield a massive reduction in the power dissipation of IT infrastructure. As a result, companies worldwide will take advantage by refreshing their IT equipment, thus allowing them to survive using their existing aging facilities and support infrastructure.

What is your number one prediction for the industry in the coming years? Whether you are optimistic or foresee doom and gloom, I would love to hear what you think.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

2008 Data Center Industry Trends

A recent article from Network World points to security as the dominant issue for the data center design industry in 2008. Potential threats identified by experts include:

  • Malware attacks which piggy back on major events such as the ‘08 Olympics or the US Presidential Elections
  • The opportunity for the first serious security exploit in corporate VoIP networks
  • Additional malware vulnerability for users as participation in Web 2.0 continues to grow

Other important issues for 2008 as identified by Network World staff include:
  • The early adoption of 802.11n WLAN technology
  • A shift in IT’s approach to managing mission critical environments as virtualization and green computing are deployed more broadly
  • The growing acceptance of open source technology at the corporate level
  • Tightly controlled budgets as IT spending growth drops (particularly in response to news of economic recession)
  • Increased demand for “IT hybrids” – professionals with both business acumen and technical know-how – as the most sought-after hires

Source: Security dominates 2008 IT agenda

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Data Center Wish Lists

In the spirit of the holiday season, the folks at SearchDataCenter.com have taken a look at what’s on data center managers’ holiday wish lists. It’s a fun read – check it out when you have a minute.

Here are some of the highlights:

“Extra processor horsepower”

“Information on building new data centers to carry us through the next 20 years and beyond”

“A pill that we could give folks in the physical plant and IT that would give them an understanding of what the data center is and what it takes to operate one under best practices”

And all I thought to ask for was a Nintendo Wii. I’ll have to be more creative next year.

No matter what you’re wishing for this year, the team at PTS Data Center Solutions wishes you a happy holiday season and a fantastic New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Embracing the Expanding Role of IT in Business

I was recently asked by Processor Magazine to answer a few questions about IT’s role in business, and it occurred to me that now might be a perfect time to give a “shout out” to the IT folks out there. A sort of gift, if you will, in the spirit of the season.

First, let me dispel an all too common myth – IT is not just a group of “geeks” typing code all day in the server closet down the hall. Far from it. As technology continues marching forward, IT’s role and its importance to the bottom line continues to grow. And don’t just take my word for it – according to the MIT Sloan Management Review, Information and Information Technology have become the fifth major resource available to executives for shaping an organization, alongside people, money, material and machines.[1] In fact, we’re witnessing all businesses, from large to small, expanding what was traditionally thought of as IT, to a broader corporate responsibility known as Information Systems (IS). This new IS paradigm is responsible for the development and implementation of business processes (BP) throughout an organization. These BP’s are often technology based and therefore the logical domain of the technology leaders of the organization.

IT, or “IS” I should say, is responsible for much more than just fixing uncooperative computers. IS deals with the use of infrastructure including PCs, servers, storage, network, security, communications, and related software to manipulate, store, protect, process, transmit, and retrieve information securely. Today, the IT umbrella is quite large and covers many disciplines. IT professionals perform various duties ranging from installing applications, implementing LAN/WAN networks, designing information databases, and managing communications. A few of the duties that IT professionals perform may include data management, networking, network security, deploying infrastructure, managing communications, database and software design & implementation, as well as the monitoring and administration of entire systems.

So what’s my point, you ask? Simply to reinforce the value of IT and help shift the corporate perception of IT as a “necessary evil” to IT as an important value center that can help businesses and employees to accomplish more, with greater accuracy, in less time, while utilizing less company resources. For 2008, I encourage companies to make a New Year’s resolution to embrace IT and look for ways to make the most of this extremely valuable resource.

[1] Rockart et. Al (1996) "Eight imperatives for the new IT organization," Sloan Management Review.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Server Cabinet Organization Tips

Just in time for Halloween, check out this classic server room cabling nightmare at Tech Republic. Scary stuff.

Good data center design is a combination of high-level conceptual thinking and strategic planning, plus close attention to detail. Obviously, things like the cooling system and support infrastructure are critical to maintaining an always-available data center, but smaller things like well organized server cabinets can also contribute to the overall efficiency of a data center or computer room. That being said, I thought I’d share a few of our guidelines and best practices for organizing your cabinets.

In no particular order:

1. Place heavier equipment on the bottom, lighter equipment towards the top

2. Use blanking plates to fill equipment gaps to prevent hot air from re-circulating back to the front

3. Use a cabinet deep enough to accommodate cable organization and airflow in the rear of the cabinet

4. Use perforated front and rear doors when using the room for air distribution

5. Make sure doors can be locked for security

6. PTS prefers using a patch panel in each cabinet for data distribution. We typically install it in the top rear U’s, but are experimenting with vertical rear channel patch cable distribution

7. PTS prefers using vertical power strips in a rear channel of the cabinet with short power cords for server-to-power-strip distribution

8. While they are convenient, do not use cable management arms that fold the cables on the back of the server as they impede outlet airflow of the server

9. Don’t use roof fans without front-to-rear baffling. They suck as much cold air from the front as they do hot air from the rear.

10. Monitor air inlet temperature ¾ of the way up the front of the cabinet

11. Use U-numbered vertical rails to make mounting equipment easier

12. Have a cabinet numbering convention and floor layout map

13. Use color-coded cabling for different services

14. Separate power and network cabling distribution on opposite sides of the cabinet

15. PTS often uses the tops of the cabinet to facilitate cabinet-to-cabinet power and data cable distribution

As you can see, the little things do make a difference. And by instituting some or all of these, you’ll be one step closer to 24-7 availability.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Role of Sprinklers in Computer Room Fire Protection

A number of clients have asked us about the viability of replacing their ‘wet’ sprinkler systems with a dry-type fire suppression system, such as FM-200. Not many IT personnel understand the role of water-based fire suppression systems, but all realize the potential for water in the data processing environment to be a “bad thing.”
The short answer is that sprinkler systems protect the building and dry-type systems protect the equipment. In most cases a dry-type system cannot take the place of a sprinkler system, it can only be installed in addition to it. At the end of the day, the local fire inspection is the authority and has jurisdiction over what is permissible. This is the reason that pre-action sprinkler systems are primarily used for computer room fire protection.
That being said, fire prevention provides more protection against damage than any type of detection or suppression equipment available. For Tier I and Tier II computer rooms, PTS often recommends installing only a pre-action sprinkler system activated by a photo-electric smoke detection system and forgo a dry-type system and VESDA system. We find the most effective strategy is to emphasize prevention and early detection. This allows the client to maximize availability by investing in solutions for areas of higher risk, such as fully redundant power and cooling systems.
For more information on fire protection, read our vendor white paper “Mitigating Fire Risks in Mission Critical Facilities,” which provides a clear understanding of the creation, detection, suppression and prevention of fire within mission critical facilities. Fire codes for Information Technology environments are discussed. Best practices for increasing availability are provided.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Blogging in Good Company…

Happy Friday, everyone!

A little over a year ago, Rich Miller at Data Center Knowledge put together a list of data center-related blogs, some of which have now become part of my regular reading habit. (Thanks, Rich, for including the PTS blog in that list.)

Expanding on Data Center Knowledge’s list, here are a few blogs that I try to keep tabs on:
* Cisco’s Data Center Networks
* Virtual Graffiti’s APCGuard
* John Rath’s Data Center Information
* SearchDataCenter.com’s Server Specs
* Matt Stansberry’s SearchDataCenter.com Editorial Blog
* CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s Sun Microsystems Blog
* DD’s Eco Notes (another Sun blog)
* The Mainframe Blog
* The Next Generation Data Center Blog
* Various ITToolbox Blogs

Check them out when you have time.

By the way, the PTS Data Center Design blog has joined the MyBlogLog community. It’s a great tool for connecting with readers and authors of sites you enjoy. If you’re a MyBlogLog member, leave a message for me – it’s always great to hear from readers!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It Isn’t Easy Being Green: Companies forgo eco-friendly solutions

A number of major corporations in the past year, including News Corp and Citigroup, announced plans to launch significant environmental initiatives. These corporations are paying particular attention to sustainability and are taking steps to build green data centers, in addition to reducing their carbon footprint in other ways.

To meet this demand, industry leaders such as Sun Microsystems, HP and IBM added energy-efficient servers and other eco-friendly technology solutions to their offerings. However, according to Going Green: Vendors Deliver Solutions to Save Money – the World:

“[E]nd users won’t rush to replace their infrastructure with greener technology, says Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of research firm Commfusion LLC. For one thing, there are budgets to consider. Pleasant likens the principle to the car industry — many consumers might want to drive expensive hybrids but aren’t ready to replace their perfectly serviceable, gas-powered vehicles.

Plus, there’s some skepticism that environmentally friendly systems might not work as well as familiar, existing networks. Companies “are going to have to prove that the new technologies or systems are every bit as good as what [end users] already have,” Pleasant says.”

Despite the eco-friendly peer pressure, many companies have and will continue to forgo potential long-term savings over increased capital expenditures until the premium to do so diminishes. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the green movement continues to build steam and as the media continues to barrage us with global warming news. If hybrid vehicles really start to take off, will green data centers too?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Plan Your Data Center Move (Part 2 of 2)

A successful data center relocation starts with a good plan. By placing emphasis on pre-design and planning, you can achieve an optimal solution to meet the demands of your data center move. Here are some key points to address when developing your own data center relocation strategy:

What equipment really needs to move?

An equipment migration is the perfect time to make network and network security improvements, phase out old server and storage platforms, and undertake a virtualization project to minimize the number of servers.

Is the new site’s support infrastructure prepared to accept the new load?

Is there enough UPS, cooling, power distribution, floor weight capacity, etc.? Is the data cabling strategy the same or will you be making changes? It’s helpful to retain a computer room design consultant to verify the load capacity and redundancy constraints of the new site. If working with a pre-existing space, the new computer room should be re-commissioned.

Establish corporate buy-in.

Clearly communicate the timeline of the project with everyone in the company – management and employees alike.

Identify, mark, tag, and document everything – twice!

Every piece of equipment from subfloor to ceiling – be it a cabinet, rack, power cable, power strip, patch cable, data cable, bracket, nut, or bolt – needs to be accounted for using a numbering convention that will ensure everything goes back together exactly as it came apart.

Develop a schedule with enough time built in for contingencies.

Allow yourself a sufficient margin of error in case there’s a hold-up at some point during the process. Build extra time in at the end of the data center relocation schedule and don’t try to do too much at one time.

For more advice on data center migration, check out "Tips For Moving Your Data Center" at Processor.com.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Plan Your Data Center Move (Part 1 of 2)

In my post “Tips for Handling Your Data Center Relocation,” I discussed some basic strategies for streamlining a data center move. Since then, I’ve received a few requests for more insight into handling the data center relocation process. In this post I’ll address whether it’s necessary to call in the pros and how to pick a data center moving company.

While in some cases the in-house team can handle the move themselves, most enterprises need a little extra help. I liken it to attempting a plumbing project on your own. The tools you need to do the job most effectively are so specialized and you rarely have them – in most situations, it would take you three times the amount of effort to do the job versus the professional. With a data center relocation project, having the right packing materials, rigging equipment, trucks, and so forth are all necessary for a job well done.

Here’s an overview of how to find and hire a company to help with the data center relocation process:

Step 1: Finding a data center moving company.

Nearly every area has a company that specializes in relocating computer equipment. They can be found in the Yellow Pages, via an online search, or by asking for referrals from colleagues. The hard part is making sure you’ve found a qualified company that specializes in data center moves. Checking references is vitally important. A general rule of thumb I’ve seen people use is “The bigger the companies they work for, the better the moving company is,” but this isn’t always the case.

Step 2: Checking qualifications.

When lost or damaged equipment can mean downtime and escalating costs, the need to choose carefully is clear. The most important thing to look for is experience. How many years has the data center relocation company been in business? What’s the combined experience of their team? Have they worked on projects of similar scale to your own?

Ask specific questions to make sure they perform these services on a regular basis. What are the company’s best practices and proven methodologies? What resources and support does the company offer? How would they coordinate all aspects of the move from start to finish?

Remember that the moving company is only one part of the integrated team for an effective relocation. Be sure to involve key stakeholders in the process, including your IT, business and facilities staff as well as third-party vendors. The project team should include:

  • your internal IT and facilities staff,
  • an overall project manager (internal or external),
  • an IT services company to assist in the marking, tagging, un-cabling, un-racking, re-racking, and re-cabling of all IT infrastructure
  • a computer room design firm to verify the power and cooling capacity on the other side.

For a more detailed guide to hiring a firm, download my white paper, “Tips for Hiring a Data Center Consultant.”

(Next post: Establishing an overall plan for your data center move…)