What CFOs Need to Know

Matthew Goulding is managing director of Cannon Technologies – consultants, designers and turn-key builders of data centers based in the UK.

Matt-Goulding_CannonMATTHEW GOULDING
Cannon Tech

As a CFO, CEO or CIO with a data center (or possibly several) in your organization, you’re undoubtedly aware that they devour electricity like small cities and that the up-front capital investment, cost of expansion or re-development is somewhere between painful and eye-watering. This column looks at how a very new data center construction method is set to allow true incremental ‘pay-as-you-grow’ whilst reducing total CapEx and OpEx.

Over recent years, there have been several attempts at ‘pay-as-you-grow’ data center solutions – but whilst these have successfully deferred CapEx, they have led to a more expensive overall solution with higher lifetime CapEx costs and sometimes higher OpEx too.

There is now a new ‘incremental modular’ pay-as-you-grow technique. So new, in fact, that your data center people may not have heard of it yet. The system has been implemented by Cannon Technologies in conjunction with telecoms network operators around the world over many years, and has now been adapted for data center ‘new-builds’ and upgrades.

Reducing the Power Cost

Unless your data center was built very recently it’s probably a massive bricks-and-mortar building with cavernous data-halls full of racks or cabinets which are, in turn, full of servers and other IT ‘hardware’.

Each server cabinet could contain maybe twenty or so servers – many of which actually do fairly little most of the time. So while each cabinet would only use as much electricity as two or three one-bar fires, they are very inefficient.

Hot air from all of these cabinets heats up the air (and the walls) of the great cavernous space – and massive computer-room air conditioning units (CRACs) around the perimeter then suck out the heat using almost as much energy again as the IT equipment is consuming. So you’re actually paying for nearly double the amount of power your servers need.

Recent advances in server technology have massively increased efficiency. A technique known as ‘virtualization’ means that one piece of server hardware can pretend to be several dozen servers. This keeps the IT guys happy because they can still have servers dedicated to specific tasks – but it means that the actual hardware works at 80% capacity rather than 10% which power-wise is far more efficient.

The new generation equipment is also much more miniaturized, so they can squeeze 300 to 500 ‘virtual’ server cores in a single cabinet. This would allow the data center footprint to be reduced were it not for the fact that business and user applications demand more and more servers, storage, etc., year on year.

Moving to these new style servers improves energy efficiency but creates problems too. Each cabinet now uses as much energy as 30 to 60 one-bar fires and the old CRAC cooling method I described earlier is far too inefficient. So to contain and manage the cooling, a system of rooms-within-rooms has to be built (we call it cold-aisle cocooning) together with installing cooling units very closely coupled to these massive ‘heaters’.

Compare to Bricks and Mortar

Bricks and mortar data centers have always been horrendously expensive whether new -build, re-purposing of existing building or rental. Given the need to provide for expansion, buildings have always had to be built, purchased or rented at a very considerably greater size that you currently need.

Not only is the up-front CapEx several hundred per cent more than the current requirement for cabinet-space, the OpEx costs of operating a half-empty building year on year are exorbitant too.

It can be ten years before the building is operating effectively at 80 per cent of utilization. And then within another five years or less it’s full and the IT guys need another new building.

Frankly, for most organizations, it was never a sound business model. To be fair, there used to be few alternatives. But now there are.

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  1. Ron Vokoun

    I think you mean "Virtualization" not "Visualization". You really never say what this technique is. Makes it hard to really evaluate what you are saying for validity.

  2. @Ron - I believe there was a typo and it was supposed to be virtualization. But your other point is true.