As the Met Office issues warnings that the UK is in for a hotter than usual summer, with temperatures predicted to hit above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, UK data centres are bracing themselves for some major heat-induced problems.
Server heatstroke is the biggest worry. Five years ago the average rack consumed just 1kW of power, whereas today it can easily use 24kW. As that power is converted into heat, keeping systems from getting so hot that they shut down is a real challenge. That has been exacerbated by the density at which manufacturers pack their components and the advent of technologies such as blade servers that enable organisations to slot scores of systems into a single rack.
Coupled with that is an aging National Grid that may buckle under demands to keep businesses and consumers from overheating. "In hot summers, power consumption actually goes up because air conditioning draws on large amounts of electricity," explains Julian King, commercial director at co-location provider Global Switch. He recommends regular inspection and maintenance of data centre equipment as excessive heat magnifies any faults that may be lurking.
Fresh in the minds of UK data centre managers is the devastating power outage that hit the east coast of the US in August 2003, shutting down critical applications, affecting over 50 million people and costing US businesses billions of dollars. Although many data centres immediately switched to battery power and then diesel generators, 2% of 500 data centre managers surveyed by AFCOM's Data Center Institute estimated that the catastrophic power failure had cost them more than $10 million.
In the UK, IT executives at one major telecoms company say privately that their systems are unlikely to cope with a major heat wave. They are warning senior management that the company will be in danger of losing vital billing information as rising temperatures force it to progressively to turn off servers in order to stop them burning out. For an organisation of this size, co-location, with its complex service-level agreements designed to protect the business, is not necessarily cost-effective.
But as Tim Anker, director of The Colocation Exchange, warns: "It's not just the heat. The question is whether the UK's electricity supply can keep up with demand. Anybody running online technology applications is at risk." He reports that many of the large co-location providers are actually turning customers away at the moment, despite having rack space available, due to their inability to cater for their power consumption needs.
A recent global survey conducted by industry analyst firm IDC found that in times of business disruption, it pays to use an outsourcing option. For companies that chose to invest in an internal secondary back-up infrastructure, rather than opt for outsourcing, the loss was on average $4 million per disaster. Those that used an in-house strategy to maintain mission critical application spend on average $2.2 million more per year.