Gartner: Data Centres Set For Fresh Headaches

Data centres are set to face a rapid rise in problems associated with power, cooling and space, thanks to the new generation of high-density equipment

Analyst company Gartner has warned that owners and operators of data centres will face more and more problems associated with power, cooling and space, thanks to the prediction of a significant increase in server sales during the next two years.

Server Influx

Gartner, in a new report “Data Center Power, Cooling and Space: A Worrisome Outlook for the Next Two Years”, believes that this influx of fresh equipment into the data centre is going to trigger a fresh bout of headaches for IT managers.

“While server sales are expected to rise over the next two years, many IT administrators are already grappling with data centre power, cooling and space issues of its current fleet,” said Rakesh Kumar, research vice president at Gartner. “Virtualisation and consolidation projects will help offset some of these issues, but with the snowball effect that these issues tend to create within an organisation, users need to act quickly.”

According to Gartner, the worldwide server market declined by 16.5 percent in revenue and by 16.8 percent in volume in 2009. However, analysts predict that the market will recover from 2010 onward, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.5 percent for shipments and 2.4 percent for revenue from 2010 through 2014.

Gartner’s Kumar states that while servers consume only about 15 percent of the direct energy in data centres, there is a cascade effect. Effiectively, the more servers that exist, the more heat is generated, and therefore, the more cooling equipment is needed.

And to make matters worse, while power, cooling and space did vex many data centre personnel during the economic downturn, the IT market is now on an upswing, and Kumar warns that these issues will become significantly worse as the market takes off.

End-User Advice

In an effort to mitigate against this, Gartner advises users to not underestimate the issues, and quantify the problem.

“Users need to get accurate capacity-related data to quantify the impact of infrastructure expansion on the amount of data centre power, cooling and available space. This involves working with facility teams to see what is available and how quickly it could be used up. It also means that the infrastructure and operations (I&O) groups need to work with the application and architecture teams to see what is being planned for the next few years and to translate those needs into energy and space metrics,” Gartner said.

Gartner also thinks that users need to start implementing energy-monitoring tools to manage and predict capacity requirements and to control operational costs. They also need to accelerate consolidation and virtualisation projects, and assess the benefits of delaying new server purchases.

Sweat Existing Assets

Meanwhile, IT services provider Morse thinks that users should be looking to ‘sweat’ their existing infrastructure first, as “expanding server capacity in the traditional manner is no longer sustainable.”

“With ever-growing numbers of servers consuming more power, expelling more heat and eating up more space, it is clear that simply continuing to expand server capacity in a “traditional” manner is not sustainable,” warned Brian Murray, Principal Consultant at Morse.

“Energy isn’t getting any cheaper, cooling isn’t getting any easier and there is nowhere near an infinite area for data centres to expand into. Instead of simply increasing the number of servers to cope with IT needs, IT departments should first make sure they are using what they already have to its fullest potential before they consider any expansion. Essentially they need to be optimising their data centres.”

Murray thinks that, where possible, IT operations should be consolidated and virtualisation used to minimise the physical infrastructure needed. It cited the example of a leading bank, which by refreshing, virtualising and consolidating its server environment, was able to extend its data centre’s life by at least two to three years.

Even more impressively, power usage was reduced enough to provide £1.5 million of annual savings in energy costs, and a CO2 emissions reduction of 6,500 tonnes per year.

“As well as optimisation, power use needs to be rigorously monitored and controlled, not just in the data centre but across the business, so that IT departments know exactly what their energy requirements are and can predict how any expansion will alter this,” said Murray.

“Yet at the moment 70 percent of organisations don’t know how much power their IT infrastructure actually uses: without addressing this lack of knowledge, they will never address the increased pressure that high-infrastructure deployments will bring.”