A problem shared

A common enemy is a great unifier. That is why there is a great deal of empathy between IT leaders when the subject of data centres is on the agenda.

As the guests at Information Age’s most recent roundtable debate on the topic of data management revealed, the constant struggle to keep running costs down, heat output under control, power on and availability high is something they all face.

“An oversubscribed data centre is the norm,” lamented the IT director of a large business services company, adding that this fact should inform all new builds. “We should be designing data centres in the knowledge that they will become oversubscribed.”

That oversubscription is causing problems at every turn. Electricity costs are skyrocketing, the assembled group reported. But because sourcing electricity is often not the responsibility of the IT department, managing the data centre’s power footprint holistically is often impossible.

“Only when I was put in charge of the facilities department did I get to see the utility bills of the data centre,” the CIO of a technology consultancy revealed. “Only then did I understand the scale of the problem.”

The data centre’s thirst for electricity means that businesses are beholden to their utility providers. Not only does that make negotiating contracts difficult, it can cause nightmare business continuity scenarios. “You need to be in a position where you can switch electricity providers if need be,” advised one IT director.

Temporary reprieve

Today, whenever data centre management is discussed, talk soon turns to virtualisation. Server virtualisation has provided a lifeline for data centre operators, allowing them to squeeze more functionality into each server, and therefore make their data centre real estate more productive.

But virtualisation does not solve the problem of escalating data centre heat, as one anecdote from the IT director of an organisation who had outsourced its data centre to a third party highlights: “We decided to implement server virtualisation and we got usage rates of 80% to 90%,” he recalls. “But eventually they banned us from doing it. Their servers had been specced for normal utilisation rates, and their machines would literally melt at those new rates.”

And, as the IT director of a City law firm explained, while virtualisation may have bought data centre managers some time, it has not permanently solved many their problems. “Server virtualisation is probably going to save my bacon for a while,” he said, “but not forever.”

Time and again, the attendees identified improved governance as the solution to many of the ills of the data centre. With greater control and visibility, processes like power procurement and virtual machine provisioning, to name but two, will of course become more efficient and effective.

How to achieve that control and visibility was less clear. One emergent theme was that, by fostering greater co-operation between the IT and finance departments, the required investment in data centre resources can be properly balanced against the business need.

“We have a finance director for IT, who reports to both the CEO and the CFO,” explained the IT manager for a large, data-intensive research organisation. “It’s his job to present the financial justification for IT projects, and it makes our jobs a lot easier.”

Further reading

Future of the Data Centre 08
Data centre imperatives. A report from Information Age‘s Future of the Data Centre conference

Find more stories in the Data Centres Briefing Room

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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