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4/15/2005
11:25 AM
Darrell Dunn
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Step Into The Future

New technology, security, and reliability requirements are changing the data-center infrastructure.

Internet search-engine company Ask Jeeves Inc. is looking at a major data-center redesign in the next few years. The company, which IAC/InterActiveCorp recently revealed plans to acquire, operates almost a dozen data centers ranging from 25,000 to 100,000 square feet, altogether housing about 10,000 servers. Based on current and projected growth rates, the company's data-center footprint over the next five to seven years could expand by a factor of 10 and require an additional 50,000 to 75,000 servers. "Trying to leverage tens of thousands of servers in a fabric is only going to increase heat concerns," says Dayne Sampson, VP of information technology. "The ramifications of having to cool this sort of density have a number of implications, particularly cost."


Having to cool a big data center has many implications, especially cost, says Sampson, Ask Jeeves' VP of IT. -- Photo by James Newbury

Having to cool a big data center has many implications, especially cost, says Sampson, Ask Jeeves' VP of IT.

Photo by James Newbury
Each year, $20.6 billion is spent on the electrical mechanical infrastructure that supports IT in the United States, according to a new report, "The Data Center Of The Future: What Is Shaping It?" from InterUnity Group. Its survey of 161 data-center professionals, conducted in conjunction with AFCOM, a leading association for the industry, shows that Ask Jeeves isn't the only company facing potentially expensive change in the face of new computing technologies and that heat is just one area of growing concern. Nearly 60% of those surveyed believe new equipment is being acquired

without adequate concern for power or cooling requirements. But businesses also are looking to boost reliability and security as they prepare for major upgrades to their data centers, which about half the com- panies in the survey believe will take place within the next three years.

The changes afoot aren't for the faint of heart. "It's actually a very scary proposition to think about," says Sampson, who serves as both IT director and data-center manager. Improving operational efficiencies, he says, is going to require a "paradigm shift in the way we cool equipment."

In addition to the technology concerns, some companies also will require a shift in the way their data-center managers, who traditionally have operated under the auspices of the facilities department, interact with CIOs and other high-level IT executives over evolving infrastructure plans. At a growing number of companies, the data-center manager is part of the IT department, reporting to the director of IT or the CIO. Still, three-quarters of respondents to InterUnity's survey say they're concerned about a lack of involvement in the planning and procurement of new equipment. While most respondents believe their data centers are more reliable and better protected than three years ago, half still have big concerns about reliability, in large part because of the increased need for power and cooling in a world of power-dense servers and switches, and tightly packed cluster and grid environments.

chart

Many data centers now in operation were built quite recently, during the late 1990s. In undertaking the survey, "we expected to find a fairly static five- or 10-year horizon," says Richard Sneider, an InterUnity director. "What we found was that there are changes happening over the next three years that will dramatically alter how data centers need to be set up."

Cooling supercharged servers is probably the most dramatic. Liquid cooling--or some improved form of it--is inevitable, says Steve Madara, VP and general manager for the cooling business at Liebert Corp., a provider of environmental control systems, even though most companies eliminated such systems long ago because of the space-eating sizes of the devices and the potential for leaks. Many companies hope to forestall moving to liquid cooling by adopting improved use of air-cooling designs--specifically by getting the cooling as close to the heat sources as possible. Alternating hot and cool aisles of servers, raising floor levels beyond the standard 18 to 24 inches to improve cool-air flow, and using overhead cooling to supplement raised floor-level cooling are all viable strategies. Data centers under construction are better able to accommodate 3-foot raised floors or even to dedicate entire floors below the hardware to cooling, rather than trying to add those to existing data centers, Madara points out.

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