The Modern Data Center: Challenges and Innovations

James Young<br/>CommScopeJames Young
CommScope

James Young is the Director of CommScope’s Data Center Practice in Asia Pacific.

The modern data center is a complex place. The proliferation of mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, place an ever-increasing pressure on IT departments and data centers. End-user and customers’ expectation levels have never been higher, and the demand for data shows no sign of slowing down. Data center managers must manage all of these elements while also remaining efficient and keeping costs under control. So where does the data center go from here?

One thing I have noticed in the evolution of the modern data center is that the facilities are gaining importance as energy efficiency and IT management have come to the forefront. Maximizing an organization’s resources is vital, and that means delivering more to facilities and equipment without expending more on staffing. IDC forecasts that during the next two years, 25 percent of all large and mid-sized businesses will address the power and cooling facility mismatches in their data centers with new IT systems and put a 75 percent cap on data center space used. So, there again is the crucial challenge of doing more and innovating while keeping budgets and spend under control.

Where Does the Data Center Go Next?

At the heart of the data center evolution is IT’s rapid rate of change. If you examine enterprise data centers, then you might observe the ways that cloud computing and hyperscale innovations are displacing traditional enterprise systems, with new paradigms pioneered by innovators like Amazon and Google. With new options being developed, enterprises now have to chart strategies for cloud computing, including public, private or hybrid cloud.

Taking the Data Center Forward

These specific needs and challenges that the modern data center face requires working with the right tools and solutions. Modular, purpose-built data center infrastructure allows organizations to develop data center services based on need − when capacity rises and where capacity is needed. For example, we’ve observed in Singapore that most data centers operate slightly above 2.1 power usage effectiveness (PUE). This means that companies spend more on cooling their data center rather than on operating and powering the IT equipment. It is a simple challenge: drive efficiency without impacting operations. You want to drive PUE down to approximately 1.06, regardless of where you need to operate, and reap huge energy savings while better serving customers. If done right, there is a positive environmental impact.

Better PUE is a mandatory step in this process. The PUE journey continues as evidenced by Amazon, which had recently taken to harnessing wind to power its data centers. Modular data centers will play a major part in this PUE journey, thanks to more efficient use of energy and greater flexible support for resiliency and compute density.

When it comes to capacity, however, it’s hard to be certain about how much capacity is going to be needed. Fortunately, there are multiple ways of measuring capacity.

At one time, capacity was measured by examining the amount of space, power and cooling utilized. Organizations are now looking at the data center as a “factory,” evaluating the amount of equipment available in it, how productive that kit is and where improvements and efficiencies can be made versus competitors. In the IT space, the biggest competitors – in my view – are the hyperscale cloud providers.

The Enterprise Versus the Hyperscale Provider

While it’s no surprise that the complex, multi-layered enterprise has more elements to manage, it is good to know that there are new tools available to help them do so. Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions enable enterprises to measure the amount of work obtained out of every watt sent into the IT equipment and to use this data to drive new efficiencies. In 2013, the Ponemon Institute researched data center outages and found that facilities equipped with DCIM recovered from outages 85 percent faster.

More Data, Smarter Decisions

Diving deeper into the productivity of IT equipment empowers data center managers to make more informed decisions in real-time, optimize the investment and use of IT resources. PUE targets should be continuously lowered, but eventually facility improvement reaches a limit given the data center’s basic design. Effective use of IT energy, enabled with DCIM tools, picks up where PUE management alone begins to fail. These tools and systems are essential for enterprises to remain competitive against their peers and also against major hyperscale players.

The mix of different operating models will likely always remain with some organizations being less dependent on the IT equipment they use choosing instead to outsource all their IT or software needs to an expert third-party supplier. Since the data center is the core of their business, others may choose the alternative path. Ultimately, the network remains vital for any of these strategies to succeed.

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