Cabinets Are More Than Big Metal Boxes

How do cabinets impact operational costs?

This question is not asked enough by data center designers, owners or managers as they build-out new whitespace. Cabinets are the foundation of the data center’s physical infrastructure, used throughout the life cycle of the facility. IT equipment that runs the applications are contained within them, the cabling that connects the equipment to the users and the LAN/SANs are terminated and managed in them, power is distributed within them, and cooling is channeled through them. They are also the most visible infrastructure element, and how they look and fit together is often an indicator of how a data center is run and managed.

Why then are they frequently taken for granted, simply considered “big metal boxes”? Why isn’t there more emphasis on cabinets being considered an asset that helps reduce operational costs?

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Adding a New Physical Infrastructure: Part 1

How do you build out a new data center physical infrastructure?

Under the best of circumstances, building out new data center capacity is complex, expensive, time consuming and fraught with risk. Experts, engineers and consultants are needed for everything from designing the building shell, planning power and cooling systems, to commissioning. These are just the major categories. Think about the expertise needed to manage all the details that cascade from them!

If you are responsible for a small to mid-sized data center you may be faced with doing more of this yourself given the available resources. Increased complexity makes it difficult to find and retain people who possess all the essential skills needed to design and integrate the power, cooling, racks, cabling and other components necessary to complete the build correctly, and on-time. Taking on the coordination of the build-out in addition to normal responsibilities can be overwhelming.

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Incentives For Energy Consumption

I recently had the opportunity to discuss an application for a retrofit containment system installed into an existing data center with a sales person. Not an uncommon story, given the effectiveness of separating cold and hot air streams in the data center to reduce cooling energy consumption. The part of the story that stood out for me was that the sales person enthusiastically related how the end user realized an instant payback on the containment system and had money left over. It sounded too good to be true. My first thought was just how badly is this data center being operated that the retrofitting of a containment system would yield an instant payback and still have money left over???

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DCIM for Small Data Centers

When it comes to running an efficient operation, small data centers have many of the same concerns and challenges as their larger counterparts. One of the greatest challenges that managers of small data centers have is that they typically have limited resources in terms of technology, staffing, and financial support.

This can leave a small data center more vulnerable to inefficiencies, inflexibility for growth, and the potential for system failures. One example we run into on a regular basis occurs when the manager of a legacy data center needs to obtain power consumption and environmental data as a result of a cost reduction initiative, or difficulty finding capacity for new applications. This typically occurs in data centers that are older, may have between 20 and 30 racks, and have grown, despite best intentions, in unintended ways.

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Rescue Stranded Data Center Capacity

Whether it is power, space, or cooling, stranded capacity can strangle your data center’s efficiency, blow-up your budget and put the brakes on new applications implementation.  We have encountered many approaches to freeing stranded capacity ranging from the expensive…redeployment or reconfiguration of devices, or adding power or cooling capacity in an operational data center, to the ones requiring lower investment…additional perforated floor tiles, fans, or “meat locker” curtains to help improve cooling capacity utilization.

Frequently, we are asked to help reclaim stranded data center capacity. One approach that is relatively low risk and economical is to improve the utilization of existing cooling capacity. Installing blanking panels and sealing gaps in the raised floor is typically our first recommendation. Fast, simple, and inexpensive to implement, it is typically a first step and may not provide the level of separation needed to concentrate cooling air to accommodate higher densities. The next step is hot or cold aisle containment.

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Measure, Improve and Maintain for Higher Efficiency

Statistics, multiple analysts, and research reports indicate that data centers are often overprovisioned with power and cooling capacity to maintain service levels regardless of actual IT equipment utilization. As you are well aware, this approach has proven to be expensive and inefficient. As data center energy consumption grows it is drawing the attention of CFO’s and corporate responsibility managers who are concerned with the impact of the data center’s operation on the environment and of course, the impact on the bottom line. So how can you improve your data center’s efficiency?

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Maintaining Energy Efficiency

New research information from Data Center Dynamics indicates that global data center energy consumption in 2013 has slowed down to 7% growth as compared to 19% between 2011 and 2012. This reduction is attributed to energy efficiency measures, consolidation projects and outsourcing, primarily in mature markets.

Data Center Dynamics Graphic

So, does this mean data center managers and operators can breathe a sigh of relief? Not necessarily. Once energy efficiency improvement goals have been attained, how do you maintain that level of efficiency over the lifecycle of your data center?

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Optimizing Data Center White Space…..The Next Frontier

We frequently work with data center managers who need help optimizing data center white space. They are fully aware that data centers are among the costliest facilities to build and operate. Excluding power and cooling, Gartner estimates that the space a single server cabinet occupies costs $4,900 per year. This figure is based on the annualized cost of the building structure itself, racks, building maintenance, 24/7 security and staff and property taxes, etc.

Dynamic, virtualized work-loads, the need to provision new applications quickly, and lack of insights into available power and cooling leads to over provisioning of power and cooling, which results in higher operating costs. On the contrary, space is often under provisioned and results in average cabinet space utilization between 50% and 65%, an obvious visual indicator that improvements are needed. However, historically, deploying additional capacity has been complicated, expensive and time consuming.

Factor in the time and effort, associated with justifying capital for a data center expansion and optimizing the existing space becomes an attractive alternative. Increasing cabinet density can be like venturing into unknown space. Here are some considerations as you embark on your mission–optimizing data center white space:

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