As one of the delegates made an unscheduled exit from Information Age’s latest roundtable debate on ‘Effective Solutions for Modern Data Centre Challenges’, he knew the irony of his early-departure would not be lost on his fellow delegates: “An outage at our data centre,” he read from his BlackBerry.
Amid the laughter and head-shaking was a discomfort shared by all the IT directors and data centre managers gathered for the debate – that many current data centres facilities were treading far too close to the edge.
As the debate around the table demonstrated, there is no single issue that dominates the data centre agenda, but rather a confluence of pressures – from the escalating power requirements of modern equipment and their inflated electricity bills, to the scarcity of space and the demand for greener environments – that have all precipitated a sense of crisis.
The seeds of this crisis owe much to changes in the way computing power is delivered. Technologies such as blade servers, intended to make IT more flexible, have produced quantum changes within the data centre.
“When our users buy blades, it’s not just one or two, it’s hundreds of them. We’re consuming far more power than ever before because of the sheer numbers,” reports the director of business continuity at a multinational bank.
And this rapacious demand for electricity is now outstripping suppliers’ ability to produce power.
One solution to ease the burden of operating data centres may be to relocate. As the vice president of strategic operations at a financial services group recounted, weekly ‘brownouts’ had convinced business leaders at his company to accept that a move away from London’s Docklands was vital. His company moved to a site where there was an “abundant” supply of electricity, but without the kind of first-rate network links it previously took for granted. “We were lucky,” he says, “the company could afford to lay the necessary fibre (all the way from the City to the M25); it understood the ramifications of not moving.”
Others cited different reasons for making such a data centre move out of urban areas. Corporate social responsibility emerged on management’s agenda, noted the IT manager for a public sector organisation, putting a focus on renewable sources of energy. “There’s not much scope for building wind farms or any alternative power source in London,” he quipped.
Sustainable development had “not been on the radar” until very recently, reported the UK CIO of a large pharmaceutical company. Yet now he was expected to contribute to that as part of an existing data centre consolidation project that would reduce his company’s servers by a factor of seven.
And for those seeking refuge outside of overcrowded centres like the City of London there were warnings. “The early days were emotional,” said the information systems manager at a UK-based investment bank which moved data centre operations out of its Square Mile premises a year ago. Users like to see the blinking lights of their servers, he added. “It took time for them to accept that performance would not suffer.” With that in mind, he counselled that applications that demand very low levels of latency have to be left close to the users.
So ferocious has the competition for premier data centre space become, one delegate was still showing the bruises: his company had conducted a rigorous search for sites, and managed to secure a decent-sized plot, only to see a bigger competitor buy up all the surrounding land.