Marc Cram is Director of Sales for Server Technology, a brand of Legrand.
Those responsible for designing, operating, and sustaining the IT and physical support infrastructure found in today’s data centers face many challenges. This article targets macro trends, how they influence the decision-making processes of data center managers, and the role that power infrastructure plays in mitigating the effects of the following trends recently addressed by Steve Gillaspy, senior director of rack scale design, product management, at Intel:
Hyper Growth and Hyperscale - Edge and cloud computing are seeing rampant growth, causing the build-out of new data centers both large and small, with growth coming so fast that traditional approaches to construction and management are unable to keep up.
Hyper Density - The need to minimize OPEX and CAPEX costs while increasing the efficiency of the data center is causing a drive towards consolidation, virtualization, containerization on the compute side, while the increasing number of both data sources and data consumers is driving the growth in demand for storage capacity.
New Workloads - Big data, AI/ML/DL, Internet of Things (IoT) and other new types of workloads are placing increasing demands on most data centers and networks.
New Hardware - Specialized silicon is now being deployed in many data centers, with the intent of improving throughput and latency in support of the new workloads. FPGAs and ASICS for AI, GPUs for AI and cryptocurrency mining. Along with new chips, there are different types of storage, processors, and interconnects available to choose from and support that makes it difficult to standardize on “one-size-fits-all” hardware.
Macro Trend Impacts on the Data Center
Since the year 2000, the world has seen the rise of numerous companies that have achieved phenomenal amounts of growth thanks to the expansion of the internet and the applications that run on it. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Uber, and countless others have all seen incredible success around the world through business models that rely on the presence of ubiquitous internet service combined with rapid access to applications running in company-owned data centers that they designed and built themselves. And with each additional data center they construct, these companies make successive leaps in productivity, energy efficiency, and profitability, all while managing the stresses that come from rapid growth, changing workloads, growing storage requirements, and accommodating new hardware technologies.
Choosing to build a new data center or retrofit an existing one is a risky decision for many enterprises today. Committing money to design, build, and operate a facility devoted solely to the well-being of IT equipment and the few people overseeing it can be a capital-intensive task that may not pay off for the company. Knowing why the data center needs to be built is crucial to achieving a successful outcome. Does the company already have a successful product or service that requires the support of a data center? What is the growth rate of that product or service? Is the user or customer latency sensitive? If the customer wants more of the product or service, is the infrastructure that delivers it scalable? Would the company be better served building the application in the cloud, and migrating it later to their own data center?
Once the decision has been made to start construction on a data center, most companies want to bring the new asset on line as rapidly as possible, sometimes without even knowing exactly what they are going to deploy in the data center until after construction is already under way. Will the next generation of processors be available in volume when the data center is ready to be outfitted? If not, can the CPUS be changed out in the servers once the newest processor generation becomes available? The drive to maximize return on investment (ROI) demands the data center “go live” as soon as the hardware arrives, yet the goal for energy efficiency dictates that the latest (fastest) generation always be installed as soon as possible. Short lead times and flexible configurations are a must for satisfying many data center applications.
Most data center designers and managers resort to setting standards early in the conception phase of a data center for power distribution architecture (480V/415V/208V to the rack), power density (5/10/20/50kW per rack), cooling (air, liquid, immersion, containment), rack size (42U/48U/52U/etc.), lighting, and so forth. These parameters become the boundary conditions for decisions that follow, such as what equipment goes into each rack, and how much air or water cooling capacity must be delivered to the rack to enable the equipment to operate reliably.
Meanwhile, software applications that run in the data center are being written or tweaked daily. New versions or entirely new applications can create increased user uptake, along with creating new data types and new volumes of data that will have to be accommodated in the data center that is already under construction. Data from “internet of things” (IoT) devices or from driverless vehicles may suddenly be added to the mix of applications requiring support within the data center, and may in turn foster new workloads such as big data analytics or artificial intelligence (AI) to be implemented.
"Today’s data centers are increasingly called upon to run much larger, more complex workloads that are often very different from one another — so the hardware requirements to run them may vary widely from workload-to-workload, and may also change over the course of a day or even an hour," said Gillaspy. "For example, some workloads might need more, and some less, processing or memory capacity. Still others might require NVMe storage or special purpose processors. Furthermore, to lower TCO it might also be desirable to leverage higher end devices across multiple workloads at different times."
In Part 2 of this series, Server Technology’s Marc Cram reviews the Top 10 concerns of data center managers - as outlined in a recent article by Steve Gillaspy of Intel - and discusses the role that power infrastructure plays in mitigating those effects.
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