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Make Sure Your IT Can Grow as Quickly as Your Business: The Case for Agile Data Centers

November 1, 2012 No Comments

Featured article by Steve Carlini, Schneider Electric

As businesses grow and transform, one of the most important things data center managers and owners can do is to prioritize agility. Most often accomplished through modular, standardized design, agile data centers deploy quickly, scale as needed and can be reconfigured without much hassle. Most importantly, agile data centers are right-sized and ultimately tie up fewer resources, including upfront capital expenses, ongoing operational costs, space and manpower.

When resources are strained, agility offers simplicity and a lower total cost of ownership. But, to envision what an agile data center might look like, the limitations of traditional design must be reconsidered, such as the following:

  • * Can a new data center be built in days, instead of months or years?
  • * Can additional capacity be added quickly to the existing data center physical infrastructure (DCPI) system? Could it be doubled in the next month?
  • * Can the data center’s DCPI be installed with minimal site work?
  • * Can a significant percentage of the infrastructure be moved to a new site if relocation becomes necessary?
  • * Can relocation, if necessary, occur in months rather than years?
  • * Can a portion of the data center be supplied with redundant DCPI (targeted availability)?
  • * Can a plug type be changed in a matter of minutes during IT refreshes?
  • * Can backup runtime be scaled as requirements change?

With modular, standardized design on open platforms, the answers to these questions can be “yes.” There are several benefits to increasing data center agility through modularity, including lower total cost of ownership, increased availability, standardization and reduced human error. Below is a detailed look at each benefit:

  • * Lower Total Cost of Ownership

Remember the collocation companies of the bust? This is a classic example of how bankruptcy could have been prevented with more agile data centers. These companies invested huge amounts of capital to develop solid, high security infrastructure they thought their potential customers would need to host critical IT equipment. Because their systems couldn’t adapt to changing business requirements, they planned for “worst case” scenarios in terms of capacity. The amount of guesswork was immense, resulting unused infrastructure, not to mention depleted funds that could have been allocated elsewhere.

True, this is a worst case example, but consider the opportunity cost of tying up so many resources building out DCPI that may not be fully used for another 10-15 years. In fact, agility is closely tied to cost of ownership. Think of all the resources that get locked up in traditional data center design:

  • * Capital used to build out more infrastructure than is actually needed today
  • * Cost to operate and maintain all the extra infrastructure
  • * Man power to manage and oversee additional equipment

Over the life of the facility, this cost quickly adds up. And the room for error is significant if you misjudge your long term needs.

  • * Increased Availability

How does non-agile, traditional data center design affect uptime? Consider that IT equipment is swapped out four or more times during the life of the data center – this often changes the power, cooling and security requirements. As more and more adaptations are made, the more complex and unstable the data center environment becomes. This invites human error, the leading cause of unplanned downtime (50 to 60 percent), reduces the reliability of equip­ment and can increase mean time to recover (MTTR) when an outage occurs.

Modular, standardized design and open platforms can help with total cost of ownership and availability, making your data center agile and able to grow and adapt with your business.

  • * Standardization

Modularity allows for the standardization of DCPI, which streamlines and simplifies every process from initial planning to daily operation, with significant positive effects on all three major components of DCPI busi­ness value – availability, agility, and total cost of ownership.

Uniqueness can be a wonderful thing – like a striking building or homemade peach pie. But not when it comes to data centers.

Infrastructure is different. The time-tested characteristic that makes infrastructure effective, reliable, predictable, and worry-free is the opposite of uniqueness; it is standardization. One-time, customized engineering of an entire DCPI results in a unique system, with unique problems that require unique diagnosis and repair – a process that is not only expensive and time-consuming, but also provides little learning that can be applied to further unique problems in the future, or to problems at other data centers in the organization.

The goal of DCPI standardization is to drive out the inefficiencies and error-prone complexity of one-time unique engineering – to transparent­ly manage the routine business of IT physical infrastructure and create that same signature quality expected of any infrastructure: it just works.

  • * Reduced Error

One of the most understated business benefits of standardization and modularity is that it makes operating the data center – on the people side – so much easier. Standardization, by nature, simplifies and facilitates learning at every level. Equally important, it makes things predictable and repeatable, and ultimately easier to explain, document, operate, troubleshoot and fix. Add this all up and you’ve got fewer human errors, problems that can be anticipated, an environment where knowledge is easily shared and increased productivity.

  • * Private Cloud Management

The private cloud has emerged as a way for organizations to benefit from cloud services without the risk of potential security risks or reduced control. Private clouds, in essence, give organizations the ability to deliver an on-demand, self-service user experience in an unlimited capacity. Organizations seeking the benefits of the private cloud as a tool to deliver IT services need to be able to easily add capacity and provision servers when needed. Modularity enables IT to scale quickly and meet those demands.

The benefits of standardization and modularity don’t just apply to the physical infrastructure. They can be applied to your operational program as well – the people and the process. We see this at work in typical data center documentation, process and procedures. But, also consider the immense benefits that standardized training, maintenance, automation and quality systems (QA, QC and QI) do to make data centers more available, agile and cost-effective.

So how can standardization be flexible enough for a constantly changing IT environment? The key is modularity – pre-engineered, standardized building blocks that can be configured specifically to the needs of a particular data center. This is the essence of agility in a modular data center – the ability to “plug and play” components as needed, when needed.

For example, even a traditional data center can benefit by implementing modular power and cooling infrastructures. Not only is this approach more cost-effective and can be quickly installed, but data centers can easily scale to match current and future data center requirements.

The benefits of modularity affect every dimension of the data center’s physical infrastructure: the way it occupies physical space, its functionality, and its evolution over time – from initial design and installation to reconfiguration at each refresh cycle. Bottom line? It makes everything in data center design, installation and operation easier, faster and cheaper.

So, what characteristics do modular designs have?

  • * Modular systems are scalable. Modular DCPI can be deployed at a level that meets current IT needs, with the ability to add more later. This ability to “right-size” can provide a significant reduction in total cost of ownership.
  • * Modular systems are changeable. Modular design provides great flexibility in reconfiguring DCPI to meet changing IT requirements.
  • * Modular systems are portable. Self-contained components, standard interfaces, and understandable structure save time and money when modular systems are installed, upgraded, reconfigured, or moved.
  • * Modular components are swappable. Modules that fail can be easily swapped out for upgrades or repair – often without system shutdown saving time and money, and most importantly, never interrupting productivity.

Modular data center design is the key to increasing availability and agility while lowering total cost of ownership. Ultimate­ly, that combination drives better business value in your data center(s). To help your data center grow and adapt with your business today and tomorrow, think standardized. Think higher ROI.  Think modular.

Steven Carlini is the Sr Director, Data Center Global Solutions for Schneider Electric. Schneider Electric is the “global specialist in energy management” with 130,000 employees and operations in 190 countries, had 2011 annual sales of $30 billion (€24 billion).

Steven is responsible developing integrated solutions and communicating the value proposition for Schneider Electric’s large data center segment.  A frequent speaker at industry conferences and forums, Steven is an expert on the foundation layer of data centers which include Power & Power Distribution, Cooling & Technical Cooling, Rack systems, Physical Security, Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM)  solutions that improve availability and maximize performance.

Prior to joining Schneider Electric, who acquired APC in 2007, Steven ran the UPS Division for Toshiba International Corporation.  Involved with the critical power and cooling industry since 1989, Steven has been responsible for guiding the direction of many industry changing products and solutions that solve real customer problems or give businesses competitive advantages.

Steven holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma, and an MBA in International Business from the CT Bauer School at the University of Houston.


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