November 28, 2014

When it comes to data centers, being dense isn’t as simple as it seems

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The major technology research firms have been crunching and releasing their server forecast projections for the next few years and one of them in particular caught my eye: Gartner Group has noted that the fastest-growing segment of the market surrounds high-density blade servers.

In fact, the research firm forecasts that by 2015, more than half of companies will have some sort of high-density zone in their data center. That is up dramatically from just 10 percent today.

What exactly does this mean and what are the implications for your data center?

First, it is important to consider that Gartner defines a high-density zone as “one where the energy needed is more than 10 kilowatts per rack for a given set of rows.” By contrast, a standard rack needs about 30 feet of space to be accommodated without additional cooling equipment. A rack in the non-dense scenario could use about 12 kilowatts of power, when it is 60 percent filled.

Gartner advises that any blade rack that is more than 50 percent filled be place in a high-density zone. That means it will need special cooling considerations, because the traditional force-air chilling methods won’t cut it.

The challenge is that most data centers weren’t designed to distribute power or cooling with high density in mind. In particular, high-density zones require extra cooling technologies, such as a chilled-water system, as well as a hot/cold aisle layout design in order to draw heat away from the servers and direct the cold air where it is needed.

Consider this remark from Rakesh Kumar, one of Gartner’s research vice presidents, which is included in the press release describing the firm’s high-density server projections:

One of the most important strategic considerations in designing new data centers or refurbishing existing ones is balancing the rates of change between the building’s system and the IT systems. For example, over a 15-year period, a building will remain essentially the same, but the electromechanical systems will typically need one round of modifications, while the IT systems will typically be refreshed two to three times.”

How much space do you need for high-density zones? Gartner believes it could be 20 percent to 25 percent of your total raised floor space within your data center.

Over time, though, my gut tells me it could be even more than that. As your organization implements its data center consolidation, virtualization and energy efficiency projects, high-density servers will absolutely play a role.

Here are 4 simple ways you can make sure your own adoption plan isn’t dense.

  1. Ensure that your IT team consults closely with facilities managers to understand your company’s corporate energy-efficiency initiatives.
  2. Adopt a modular approach to your data center build-outs, so that you can more closely match cooling needs, power distribution and electricity distribution to real-time IT deployments.
  3. Think at least five years ahead (that’s more than one server upgrade cycle) when planning your space requirements.
  4. Think portable by using structures that can be moved, scaled and adjusted over time.

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