Data centres are in the spotlight right now. On one hand they have become the indispensable factories of the new cloud and mobile enabled applications. On the other their sheer size and the number of new builds have made them the attention of a public concerned about their effect on the environment, both globally and locally. We need them to work effectively to deliver our applications and store our data quickly and securely. But we also need them to use resources very very efficiently and for those resources to be as green as possible.
The facilities and mechanical and engineering teams have made significant strides in improving the energy efficiency of data centres in recent years. Improved airflows, hot and cold aisle containment, variable speed fans, free air cooling to name but a few have all contributed to greatly increased efficiency, bringing PUE rates for new builds down to around the 1.2 mark. Advances in the use of green energy and off-grid power have also, up to a point, improved the carbon footprint of these facilities.
However, the industry faces a challenge of diminishing returns on new improvements as efficiency increases. Unless I.T. joins with facilities and M&E to take efficiency to the next level further benefits for both sides will be harder to achieve.
To date largely, collaboration hasn’t been the case. At the heart of the matter lies a fundamental conflict. As Paul Cranfield, EMEA Director of Power for Digital Realty put it recently, “the biggest challenge is timeframes. I.T. tends to work to a 3 year horizon for technology upgrades and refresh. M&E within the datacentre traditionally has a 10 year lifecycle, while the horizon for the real estate itself can be 30-50 years.”
This is always going to give the facilities people a problem. But a lot of the problem could be mitigated by closer involvement with I.T. vendors to get a clearer picture of new developments coming down the track that could impact data centre environments. The problem could also be eased by, for example, closer working with enterprise IT infrastructure teams to agree best practice for racking and stacking to improve airflow, or gaining a forward view on how workloads are going to affect new server configurations.
While there are a few anecdotal instances of greater collaboration the overall picture isn’t great. Take the recent combined Cloud Expo/ Data Centre World exhibition in London. Despite being put on in the same venue, the split between the two couldn’t have been more pronounced. The production side of data centres was kept segregated from the consumption side. Few if any I.T. people crossed the divide into the Data Centre World area, and very few attended the excellent presentations and panel debates, and vice versa. Even the branding and colours were different so you would be in no doubt about which side you were on.
At a recent seminar on data centre cooling run by Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Magazine there was a plea for a “bring an I.T. person” campaign when signing up for these type of events. So it is clear there is a long way to go. We need to find ways of kick-starting the conversation.
Photo: Andrew Tseng