Data Center Design Models and Trends

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Ron Diersen, Lead Consultant with the Sustainability Practice at Infosys Limited, has more 30 years IT experience, 26 of them within the data center. He has held various responsibilities in the construction of new data centers and the build out of existing sites, working on both physical and IT infrastructures.

Ron-Diersen-smRON DIERSEN
Infosys Ltd.

No two data centers are alike, and they should not be, for it is the business that drives the requirements for IT and the data centers which form the heart of IT are custom built and evolve based on the requirements and the culture of the organization. The type of IT infrastructure in today’s data center is designed to provide specific business services, and this can impact the physical design of the data center.

For example, thin blade rack-mounted web servers will be required for high speed user interaction, while data mining applications will require larger mainframe-style servers.  The physical infrastructure to support these different servers can vary greatly. Given their criticality, data center design becomes an issue of paramount importance in terms of technical architecture, business requirements, energy efficiency and environmental requirements.

This two-part article focuses on elaborating on design models and trends in the data center, their significance in data center infrastructure design and which are the most planet and business friendly.

Modern data center designs broadly follow one of the following principles

(a) Raised Floor/Access Floor

(b) Hot Aisle/Cold Aisle Containment (on a slab)

(c) Containerized/Modular

Each of these principles have their pros and cons when it comes to data center build, management, total cost of ownership, ease of consolidation/migration and energy efficiency.  Each has their own unique physical infrastructure designs that should be based on the IT architecture they are going to house. For example a data center of a telecommunications company will have completely different requirements from those of a banking or IT major.

Design Element

Pros

Cons

Raised Floor/Access Floor

  • Flexible cabling and wiring,
  • Easier Distribution of Cold Air
  • Looks Clean & Neat as cables are hidden
  • More suitable for heterogeneous data center
  • Higher Construction Costs
  • Cooling under floors and whole rooms
  • Cables in under floor reduce cooling efficiency
  • High Maintenance Costs
  • Weight Limitations

Hot aisle/cold aisle Containment (on a slab)

  • Localized Power Management
  • localized HVAC
  • Targeted Cooling
  • High Energy Efficiency
  • High Cost of implementation
  • Not easy to undo
  • Suitable for homogenous loads

Containerized/Modular

  • Placement just about anywhere
  • Minimum Construction and readiness time
  • Support Availability from vendor
  • Power grid requirements
  • Chilled water needs for cooling

Data Centers and Business Alignment

IT architects must understand strategic business needs and strategic business direction in order to plan and design sound technical solutions for the data center that support the business in the most economical and eco-friendly means possible. The IT technical solution will support the business model by implementing the technology that supports the business. The physical data center architectural design should be the one that compliments the IT architecture in the most economical manner, while providing flexibility to change with the changing needs of the business.

Some of the considerations in order to arrive at the right design could be:

Raised floor – A raised floor data center may make sense in an environment that has the need for mainframe (“big iron”) or similar processing needs and the network, power and cooling needs are fairly constant. Further, an enforced raised floor or slab may be required for data centers in seismically active areas.

Aisle containment – Hot aisle/cold aisle on a slab may be driven by the need to have a flexible environment where the power bus is overhead, localized network distribution centers, and the HVAC requirements are centralized. Colocation or service providers may provide such a scenario because of how easy and quickly they must change configurations based on client needs.

Modular – Modular data centers address businesses that have space constraints and unique location needs, such as remote areas. One of the drivers may be a short time or temporary installation of IT capacity.

There is not one  ”right” solution. In fact, some datacenters can contain a hybrid scenario where part of the center is raised floor and another part is slab. Business drivers dictate the need and the designers must understand the strategic business direction in order to design the data center(s) that provide the most effective solution. Their understanding of which IT solutions meet the strategic business need will directly impact the architectural design.


 In part 2, we will highlight some of the emerging trends such as Energy Management, Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) and PUE/CUE management and reporting. These, and others, can have a significant impact on the architecture of the Data Center, some of which should be incorporated in the data center as early as possible in the design phase.

Please note:  Vaibhav Bhatia, Senior Consultant with the Sustainability Practice at Infosys Limited and a certified Data Center Associate, contributed to this column. With 9 years of IT experience, he has managed operations of a data center, and worked on several data center optimizing and Green IT initiatives.

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