Next Up In The Data Center - InformationWeek

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9/27/2007
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Next Up In The Data Center

As systems continue to draw more power per square foot, new approaches must be taken to data center design. In the analytics brief, we look at two best practices around raised floor designs and the use of DC powered systems in the Data Center.

REAL IMPROVEMENT
While the need for better data center facilities is clear, what constitutes "better" is less clear. Should servers be specialized, or should they be as generic as possible? Are blade systems the way to go, or do they represent one more form of vendor lock-in? Is DC power the way to cut the electric bill, or is it more hassle than it's worth? Can raised floors do the job, or are they outdated? The list of questions seems endless, but it's quite clear that just building the same style facilities that we built just five years ago isn't a good idea. Perhaps the biggest issue to tackle is cost.

Most data center power systems were built to supply only 50 watts per square foot, but many analysts now recommend as much as 500 watts per square foot. That tenfold increase in power systems--including UPSes and generators--and cooling systems makes this by far the most expensive part of building a data center. If you're looking to build a Tier IV, "five nines" data center, as defined by the Uptime Institute, the power and cooling systems can run you as much as 50 times the cost of the building itself. And the yearly power bill if you use the full capabilities of the 15,000-square-foot facility described in our chart on p. AB2: $13 million per year in California, or almost five times the cost of the building.

While these numbers are for new construction, retrofitting existing facilities will be equally expensive--provided you have the space for additional water chillers and room in wire chases for the new power cabling.

chart -- Growth Factors: What factors are driving your organization's plans to upgrade your data center?

Given the costs of nonconstruction infrastructure and the size of the electric bills, it makes sense to question every assumption about physical design. One of the design principles that's been called into question is the use of raised floors. There's good reason for that: As racks fill up, raised floors can become problematic. Just six years ago, the average power consumption per rack was less than 3 kW. Today that number has moved closer to 7 kW per rack, with high-density blade systems drawing 30 kW or more per enclosure. No raised-floor cooling system was designed to handle that. But it's not just the cooling system that argues for something other than a raised floor.

As systems require more power and cooling, they're also becoming heavier. So while you may need a clear 3-foot air gap to supply the needed airflow for cooling, such a raised floor will likely require special bracing to handle the weight of a full rack of systems, which can range from one-quarter ton to more than one ton per fully populated rack. Rather than relying on the raised floor to deliver sufficient cooling, in-row and rack-based cooling systems can significantly supplement or completely replace floor-based systems. These systems also have the advantage of being modular and delivering cooling to precisely the location it's needed--which can make them more efficient.

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