4 building blocks to efficient, sustainable data centers
Companies exploring the idea of building their own data center will need to factor in considerations such as the land they are building on, the size of the facility, and cabling design, among others, in order to bring down the cost of their investments and ensure the sustainability of the facility, say industry insiders.
According to Bernie Trudel, cloud CTO at Cisco Systems Asia-Pacific, traditional data centers used to be uniform, homogeneous, and monolithic but these days, these facilities need to be modular, flexible, and agile in order to support companies' business needs.
Edwinder Singh, practice head for professional services, data center solutions at Dimension Data Asia-Pacific, added the common approach of building a data center by putting up four walls and providing power and cooling to a set of equipment load will no longer work as this is not an efficient method.
For modern data centers, most of which has an average lifespan of 10 years, companies will need to now take into consideration sustainability features in order to maximize their fixed investments, said Saravanan Krishnan, director of platforms and solutions business for Asia-Pacific at Hitachi Data Systems. It is important for businesses to look to technology and architecture design to help data centers reduce power consumption, cooling, and floor space, noted Alvin Goh, Asean senior manager of system engineering and professional services at NetApp.
With these in mind, these executives shared four important design considerations companies will need to mull over when building their data centers.
Location, location, location
John Mansfield, vice president for operations and engineering at Equinix Asia-Pacific, said preliminary considerations for the setting up of a data center would revolve around ensuring the facility has ample supply of electrical power, Internet connectivity, and basic land space.
Additionally, the building should not be located near high-risk installations such as airports, oil or gas storage plants, and should be protected against natural disasters common in the country such as floods or earthquakes, Mansfield pointed out.
Krishnan echoed the Equinix executive's observations, saying that data centers should ideally be located in "green zones", which offer proper land space, infrastructure, water, and a back-up power grid.
Companies should also incorporate local and international standards during the design and site considerations process, suggested Singh. In Singapore, these would include the BCA Green Mark awarded by the Building & Constructing Authority (BCA) and in the United States it would be the while international ones are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
"Not every aspect may be applied due to local physical constraints, but it is a good approach to start with rather than implementing a fix-it solution later," he said.
Prepare for future growth
Singh said provisioning for additional compute resources across a data center's lifespan is another consideration factor. While rack space is fixed once the facility is built, there needs to be flexibility in terms of upgrading existing technologies with more advanced ones.
With that, power and cooling pressures come into play. "Thus, it is important to ensure that the scalability from a power and cooling per square foot is thought out and planned during the site selection process and also at the design phase," Singh stressed.
Wired for flexibility
In terms of cabling, Singh said datacenter designers will always go with the most cost-effective model to ensure business viability. Since fiber wires can be substantially more costly than copper, companies can start with copper in their initial operations but subsequently upgrade these with fiber later without having to rip and replace the entire datacenter environment, he suggested.
Companies should also consider structured cabling systems that are modular and flexible, the executive said. While this might cost "a slight premium" compared to the traditional approach of patch paneling, the savings will come when the company decides to upgrade to fiber, he added.
Cisco's Trudel added that the industry standard for cabling system design--TIA 942--recommends copper while multi-mode optical fiber and single-mode fiber are used depending on bandwidth and distance requirements.
"In our experience, it is good to use all three. Single mode is expensive to terminate but is futureproof for high bandwidth and long distances," he said. For this type of cable, Trudel recommends customers to run it from each rack to a central distribution point but only terminate the runs that are required.
Multi-mode fiber will be the datacenter interconnect cable of choice, he noted, adding that this type of fiber is less expensive than single-mode.
Switched on, still cool
Power and cooling are two other aspects that make up a substantial operations cost for any data center, Krishnan pointed out. To ensure efficiency is achieved in these areas, companies will need to look at its data center's features and functionalities and procure the right range of technologies, he said. These technologies could include hot and cold aisles, water-cooled racks, and smaller disk drives which require less power to drive down high operating costs, the HDS executive added.
The increasing emphasis for green data centers has also resulted in increasing use of efficient power technology and cooling air flow design among operators, which is something companies should seriously look into. "These include using cold air from the external environment, minimizing power loss at various distribution and transformation points, using smaller cables that are more power efficient, airflow design within racks, between racks and between rows of racks," Trudel said.