New thinking required for a new generation of data centres

Data-Centre

While traditionally the role of facilities management may have been a fairly isolated one, facilities managers are set to become increasingly visible and involved in strategic, organisational decisions.

Strategic decisions on long-term investments such as data centre projects involve not only the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) but also facilities managers. Due to the cost of power and land increasingly becoming a bigger part of the project than the actual equipment costs, it is the facilities manager who often now plans and manages the cost of running the data centre.

Data is more critical to organisations than it has ever been before. Data growth, together with the need for storage, security, disaster recovery and application hosting, crosses geographic boundaries and has led to massive growth in the data centre industry. However, these technological advances have led to a number of challenges in the data centre industry, such as growth in data demand, globalisation, power costs, resilience and supporting new technologies.

These developments have undoubtedly had an impact on the role of facilities management. Any organisation involved in planning or running a data centre should seek direct involvement from facilities management.

One of the largest identifiable costs to organisations nowadays is the cost of power, which in particular stems from the running of a traditional data centre and the IT equipment. As a result, organisations are looking at ways to lower the cost by reducing power usage from data centre sites. In addition to the cost of power supply, cooling, additional space, design management and the maintenance of the site data centres are also cost factors which cause a drain on financial resources.

The management of these cost factors is often assigned to facilities managers who oversee the rent, utility bills, waste management and operating permits. In addition, facilities management continues to be under pressure to reduce costs, increase financial returns and meet mandates in energy consumption, while reducing carbon-emission in order to meet corporate or government climate protection objectives.

New thinking for a new generation of data centres

Old style datacentres typically took years to build, which means that by the time of deployment, technology and technological requirements had changed. A new generation of datacentres, modular in design, offer an innovative approach to the planning and management of datacentre projects from a facilities perspective. The entire datacentre, including all power and cooling elements, is constructed and tested in approved manufacturing facilities using modern component based production line techniques before being transported to its final destination.

This approach allows organisations to deploy highly power-efficient datacentre halls in less than four months, whilst offering those involved in the planning of data centre sites, the flexibility to build large-scale data centres in 500m2 increments to the size and layout of their choice.

The cost savings over the lifecycle of these modular data centres are significant and on average 35 – 40 per cent less than the costs of more traditional data centres. Cost savings include the reduced cost of land and lower rent rates. In addition, cost savings are made by reducing the time for providing facilities for people on site building these datacentres and the ease of upgrading and refreshing data centres.

Modular data centres are manufactured off-site. From a facilities management perspective, modular data centres are less resource intense. Previously, the building of a traditional data centre was more like a construction project and typically required a project management plan spanning 18 months together with the deployment of over a hundred people working on site. Modular datacentres are built and ready to set up within a few weeks and require a fraction of human resources for deployment. Facilities managers are therefore able to make more accurate cost projections, without suffering the over-spend typically associated with new building projects.

Reducing power consumption

One of the biggest drains on energy use for large enterprises is the datacentre. Recent research by analyst Frost and Sullivan (Green Data Centres – Emerging Trends and Developments” 2009) outlines that as much as 40% of a company’s total power requirements could be associated with datacentre infrastructure. With this in mind, there is considerable pressure on both IT departments and facilities management to drive down costs associated with computing facilities.

The modular data centre approach offers facilities managers a way to drive down corporate carbon emissions through the sustainable design element of the modular approach. Each facility uses free-air cooling at 25 degrees Celsius while any waste heat from main ducts can be utilised to heat nearby buildings.

Other environmental considerations include the use of recyclable steel and other recyclable materials in the main structure of the units. The structure is also largely self-supporting which cuts down on the need for the embedded carbon associated with a large concrete floor. These modules are not only 100 per cent recyclable but are also easy to de-construct and remove unlike traditional builds.

Furthermore, datacentres typically need refreshing every seven to ten years due to changes in technological requirements for power and cooling. Due to the bespoke nature of these datacentres, facilities management had to work with bespoke design, layout, power and cooling as well as continuous training of staff responsible for datacentre maintenance. The modular datacentre offers a more flexible approach in refreshing the datacentre by ‘plugging and playing’ new parts as and when required.

It’s a three-way decision

Any data centre project should involve the decisions of three significant decision makers in any organisation. The CIO needs to identify technological requirements needed in order to deploy hard-and software into the data centre.

The CFO will be involved the budgeting of the data centre project, planning of the overall expenditure including any energy-related costs. Last but not least, the Facilities Manager will be at the heart of the decision-making process, consulting teams on questions of location, environmental impact, cost and maintenance and onsite power production and management.

Facilities Managers are an integral part of any data centre project, helping to facilitate cost efficient, flexible and scalable data centres which meet critical energy standards. Power management often falls under the responsibilities of facilities management and is typically not only associated with power of the facilities themselves, but the power around that.

There are now new and different ways for facilities managers to minimise risks often associated with these projects. Modular data centre projects offer flexibility on capacity, cost control and therefore a high level of predictability.

Bernard is Executive Vice President of Colt Data Centre Services and is responsible for managing Colt’s newly formed Data Centre Services business. His task it to oversee the growth of Colt’s Modular Data Centre strategy. Previously he was Senior Vice President at Digital Realty Trust responsible for international business. Prior to this he held the position of CEO at Servecentric Ltd., and has also held a number of senior Operations and IT roles at Worldport and Xeros Europe, and various IT Management and Software Development roles with Pioneer Investments, Informix Software, Digital Equipment Corporation and Ashton-Tate.