Data Center Capacity Management Heats Up

Add Your Comments

DALLAS - The red bulls-eye logo of the Target retail chain is everywhere these days due to an aggressive expansion in which the company is adding 130 stores and two huge distribution centers a year. Doug Hall, the data center architect for Target, knew the company’s data center capacity would need to be super-sized as well.

“The way Target’s going right now, nobody wants to hear that you have to stop growing,” said Hall, who proposed a capacity management program to measure and track the growth of Target’s IT assets. “Part of our big pitch was that every so often we’ll need to expand our data centers, but that we could extend the life of our data center by two years. That’s huge.”

Because of the success of that effort, Target was able to take two years to build and prepare a new data center without outgrowing its existing facilities. The company now has 100,000 square feet of raised floor space in three data centers in Minneapolis. Hall spoke about Target’s efforts at a Data Center World panel on data center capacity management and forecasting. With more and more companies running out of space, power or cooling, capacity forecasting is now a front-of-mind issue for data center managers and CIOs.

“Five years ago capacity management was not a big issue,” said Steve Yellen, vice president of product marketing for Aperture, who presented with Hall. “But a lot of you have been having capacity issues. It comes down to having the right information to make business decisions. Good capacity management ensures no surprises.”

Recent industry surveys have shown that a growing number of companies are getting caught by surprise by data center capacity issues. An Aperture survey from April found that 44 percent of respondents said IT equipment occupied 90 percent or more of their available space. In another survey, released this week by OnStor, reported that 43 percent of respondents would outgrow their current infrastructure in six months to one year if they changed nothing.


Given the expense and lead time needed to build a new data center, capacity planning is becoming a critical tool in identifying when decisions must be made. That’s particularly important for facilities managers, said Yellen.

“The time horizon is very different for IT,” he said. “You (facilities) guys have to be able to see out two years. There’s not much tolerance near the edge for power and cooling capacity. Always know what your maximum limit is, and then set a threshold limit. Know where you are today, and know what the trend looks like.”

For Hall, that meant more closely tracking the equipment and projects used of the various teams within Target’s IT department. There were a few surprises, including a virtualization and consolidation plan being implemented by the Unix server team. “We didn’t even know they had a plan,” said Hall. Fortunately, the initiative added capacity rather than reducing it. At one point, the consolidation was freeing up 200 square feet of raised floor space each month.

That’s given Hall an opportunity to do additional prep for the new data center, which was begun in late 2005. Target’s data centers are two-story facilities with the raised-floor technical space on the second floor and the mechanical equipment for power and cooling on the ground floor. What’s more, the company now has granular data on its IT growth and capacity for the next decision.

“We arm our VP with all the information he needs in executive meetings,” said Hall “We want all the groups within Target to have the same data and see the same thing. Communication is the key. You have to make sure everyone has the same message and they have it often.”

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.