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Unravelling the data centre of the future – by Andrew Smith of Affiniti

Andrew Smith, Business Development Director for Data Centres at Affiniti, assesses the potential solutions to the challenges faced by businesses today in providing efficient Data Centres

According to IDC the number of servers in UK Data Centres skyrocketed from six million to 28 million between 1996 and 2006, to accommodate the well documented need for organisations to store more and more data. This growth – driven by both user needs and regulatory compliance requirements – has put immense pressure on Data Centre hubs, to a point where they have all but run out of space and power to cope with new data demands.  The race is now on for companies to find suitable locations for future Data Centres. It’s not an easy task, so the search needs to begin now.

Room to Grow

Traditionally there has been a higher density of Data Centres within the M25.  Currently the South East accounts for over 85% of the UK’s tracked Data Centre demand. The increasing need for power has made Data Centre capacity in London a rare commodity, with only 3% still available today, according to GVA Connect. Dwindling availability has understandably seen the price of Data Centres increase by more than fourfold in the past couple of years.  Coupled with expensive overheads, the lack of capacity for new Centres is forcing businesses to look further afield, despite the challenges this will mean.  

Powering up

Space used to be the rarest commodity, but in recent years power has assumed the number one spot as the key requirement for Data Centres.  In fact Jonathan Koomey, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, found between 2000 and 2005 the average amount of power used to fuel servers within the Data Centre doubled.  Today Data Centres come second only to the steel industry for energy consumption.  This is largely due to the need to power the technical infrastructure within the Data Centre, and then at least the same energy again to power the air-conditioning to cool it. It is therefore imperative that businesses locate their Centres near a power grid capable of supplying them with a significant amount of energy.  To clarify this ‘significant’ amount, it is worth bearing in mind that the Norwich Union Data Centres consume more energy than the whole of Norwich put together.  In central London there are currently no power grids that will agree to power a new Data Centre, as they are already overloaded supporting existing needs.

With the twin issues of space and power, the need to reassess Data Centres for the future is becoming increasingly more time-sensitive. It takes a number of years to plan, order and implement a new Centre which will cost at least a six figure sum. Error of judgement or short-term plans just won’t wash.

Location, Location, Location

There are many suitable locations outside the capital that have ample power and space to house numerous Data Centres. For example, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris are already set to grow their involvement. Different locations can also offer additional benefits that can make a big difference to operating costs.  For example, a cool climate such as Edinburgh will help reduce the use of cooling systems, slashing a company’s power consumption and energy bills. Such a seemingly small difference can be very beneficial, but there are also a number of challenges that come with relocating Data Centres outside the M25 which must be overcome before the geographically independent Data Centre of the future can be realised.

The Issue of Networks

Wherever companies choose to build Data Centres, they will need high speed network connections. Most locations with the space and power necessary should have a network available, but the cost of using it could be up to four times more expensive than it is in London.  This kind of price rise is not sustainable for many companies, which inevitably deters businesses from moving their Data Centres outside of London.  In addition, the synchronisation of data is vital to ensure companies don’t loose any information.  This means that Data Centres can be no more than 60 to 70 fibre miles apart in order to get a synchronous high speed network connection between sites.  So, if a company decides to move or build a Data Centre in a different location, it must as a result relocate all it’s other centres. This is already being addressed by large organisations such as HP, which recently announced it planned to consolidate 85 Data Centre facilities into 6, projecting a saving of over $1 Billion.

The Green Issue

Carbon emissions from Data Centres are becoming an increasingly key issue.  The EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will soon require businesses to know exactly what its carbon footprint is.  As businesses work to decrease their carbon emissions, the single biggest energy consumer in most organisations – the Data Centre – will be a key target.  It will also become a target for cost cutting, considering the electricity bill for the Data Centre is likely to account for 50% of total operating costs, as opposed to less than 5% only a few years ago.  Greener technology will certainly be a key driver for the Data Centre of the future.

Drive towards consolidated Data Centres of the future

Considering these issues, it makes sense for companies to begin to consolidate all their Data Centres into one central location.  Economies of scale are a key driver, and consolidation can help businesses achieve this.  A consolidated Data Centre means the use of less space, arguably less electricity and certainly less people, which decreases operating costs and carbon emission while increasing efficiency.

The birth of the ‘Mega Data Centre’

Moving towards consolidated Data Centres is a major investment and one that cannot be made lightly by even the biggest of corporations.  The efficiency of a company relies on the efficiency of its Data Centre.  For this reason Data Centres are no longer seen as just a bolt on to the business, but rather a very strategic piece of infrastructure, that must be discussed and agreed at board level.  Expert consultation cannot be overlooked: after all, this is completely new territory and there are many conflicting issues that need to be weighed up.  In the end the Data Centre of the future will be a highly strategic decision for all companies, and could determine the difference between success and failure.

Affiniti is exhibiting at Storage Expo 2007, the UK’s largest and most important event dedicated to data storage. Now in its 7th year, the show features a comprehensive FREE education programme and over 90 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 17 – 18 October 2007

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