University Launches Data Center Lab, Consolidation Effort - InformationWeek

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5/26/2006
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University Launches Data Center Lab, Consolidation Effort

With funding from tech vendors and government agencies, Carnegie Mellon opens its Data Center Observatory to improve energy efficiency, reduce management costs, and consolidate server clusters.

Carnegie Mellon installed American Power Conversion's power and cooling InfraStruXure technology, including the Hot-Aisle Containment System. A conventional approach to data center cooling uses hot and cool aisles of equipment to keep cool air flowing throughout. The APC system builds modular units of heat-generating computing, storage, and networking equipment and places them in a walled-in structure that prevents hot air from moving into the data center. That structure is cooled with chilled water.

"It's kind of like an oven in a house," says Ronald Seftick, VP of construction and facilities engineering at APC. "When you're trying to cook something, you don't keep the oven door open."

Waste Not, Want Not

But Carnegie Mellon has more ambitious goals: It wants to fully understand where its IT dollars go and then change those spending patterns. It has launched a project that requires data center managers and staff to create detailed logs of all their time spent working in the data center. Within six months, Ganger expects the university to be able to analyze the collected data and begin creating new management tools to attack areas identified as most critical and wasteful.

The university may be trying to reinvent the wheel. The IT Infrastructure Library offers best practices to reduce the costs of dealing with common IT problems. There are a host of systems management platforms and applications available from a variety of vendors, and companies such as HP, IBM, and Symantec have devoted years to building systems that automate many aspects of systems and network management. IBM last week said it plans to ship its much-anticipated Tivoli Change and Configuration Management Database in June. It's designed to make it easier to make and manage changes to servers, applications, and other systems in complex IT environments.

Where The IT Dollars Go"I think we know" where the money goes, HP's Mott says. "We make a business of it as far as helping our customers understand those implications and what the costs are. You can get tools and products to better manage those resources, you can get consulting and integration services, and we can come in from a managed services standpoint and take control of the data center. What I do think is lacking is a recognition of the size of this problem."

The big problem, Mott says, is that most businesses don't use enough technology to manage their technology. "We are undercapitalized as an industry because we have all these operational costs," he says.

New tech trends such as virtualization, grid computing, and on-demand services may help businesses get a better handle on costs. Server virtualization "will be a major catalyst for attacking energy costs and really making people rethink data center design approaches through the end of the decade," Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett says.

Autonomic computing--systems that can adapt to changing circumstances, correct mistakes, adjust to shifting workloads, and fix problems without human intervention--has been more hype than reality. Cisco Systems, EDS, HP, IBM, and Sun have programs and products intended to simplify management across the enterprise, but none has come close to a self-managing, self-healing system.

"Autonomic computing is an interesting long-term vision, but it's so far out that it's really hard to argue with," says Shane Robinson, chief strategy and technology officer at HP. "We're more interested in the interim steps leading up to a vision where the focus is on service-oriented architectures and grid computing."

Whether the answers come from from vendors or university research, one thing is clear: Business technology managers must improve the way they manage their data centers and reduce the costs of routine operations and maintenance. That's the only way to shift the spending focus from ongoing maintenance and operations to innovation.

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