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What challenges remain for data center operators?

Following my previous post on Best Practices and how they can help prepare for tomorrow, we continue our examination of data centers – let’s look at some of the challenges facing data center operators now and in the future. The challenges generally fall into two categories, business and technology.

Business Challenges

Business challenges generally break down into five categories.

Agility:  Mobile devices, social media and the volume of stored information has exponentially increased the demand on IT structures and capacity. Systems must be regularly updated to meet these demands, which means the operating manager be equipped and have budgetary capability to keep pace with change.

24/7/365:  Data center operators must consider the impact of those demands on facility operations, staffing, the data center’s own IT needs and facility security. Data center incidents that cause a disruption of service are almost split between equipment and operations as main culprits. Per UI (Uptime Institute), ‘More than 70% of all data center outages are caused by human error.’

With most data centers operating around the clock throughout the year, working shifts, equipment maintenance and vendor support needs must be balanced against data center availability to its users. In short, the data center manager must determine how to make meeting both internal and external demands a part of his/her business objective.

Security and Compliance: Growing and relevant challenge to operations is how to manage security and compliance issues – and the standards behind them. Which are not only confusing, but are evolving in these high-tech times. SAS 70, SSAE 16 and SOC 1, 2 and 3 might sound like more data but these are the keys to demonstrating the level of security and compliance in a data center.  Let’s take a high level look at what’s expected and what to expect when considering an audit or certification of a data center.

SOC 2 and SOC 3 are welcome standards to our industry. They provide a standard benchmark by which tow data cents audits can be compared using the same audit criteria.  That will raise the bar for some, and allow others to shine under the stringent processes they already have in place. And users – high-quality co-location, managed server, cloud hosting and SaaS providers – will get what they’ve been seeking: a standard benchmark to use when comparing data center operations. ISO 27001 tests the Information Security Management System (ISMS).

Continuity: a challenge often overlooked in business: which is the ability to ensure that external services are provided to users regardless of internal difficulties. When developing an effective business continuity plan, data center operators need to consider four key elements: people, technology, information and communications. When disaster strikes, data center users need plans in place to protect their data – often via off-site data centers. The onus is on data center managers to have their disaster plans in place to keep their own systems running so, in turn, they can keep their users up and running.

Operating Cost: is a prime factor. For data center operators, the factors driving costs can be simplified into two general areas: energy and technology.

  • Energy: Data centers are heavy consumers of electricity – in part because they’re operating all the time, also because their foundational operations are electric-based. By closely monitoring energy consumption, cycling off servers during off hours, and identifying candidates for consolidation, operators can meet the challenge of and improve their bottom line. For example, environmental sensors can collect information for safely raising temperature set points. Likewise, a DCIM solution, with dashboard and reporting tools capable of instantly aggregating data across several dimensions, allows data center operators to quickly show stakeholders that the data center is moving toward full operational efficiency.
  • Technology: When we talk about data centers, the first thought is “storage” – the need for a massive array of servers to store and retrieve data, images, documents, anything produced by business and individuals. And that’s part of the second challenge faced by data center operators: how to keep data flowing by meeting shifting demands with flexible systems; how to know when – and by how much – to increase capacity and add functionality on the fly.

There are always new workloads, apps, users and data being launched, and the demand for IT resources is constantly increasing. Currently, the average annual growth rate for server workloads is 10%; for power demands 20%; network bandwidth 35%; storage 50%. This kind of growth can’t be met unless data center operators anticipate such growth in their business plans and remain flexible enough to handle peak demands that often require ability to upgrade technically to address the next spurt in actual growth.

There is growing global demand for data services and support: Personal electronic devices, dynamically evolving requests for more mobile applications and the ever-increasing social media platforms have become the major drivers of this demand. And every new piece of technology requires increased computing power and storage. That doesn’t just apply to data center users: operators must also keep pace with evolving technologies, replacing or upgrading existing solutions, reorganizing storage assets and constantly investing in new storage management tools.

Maybe even more important than storage capacity – today is “data capacity”: the ability to transfer enormous packets and files of data in real time.

Think in terms of over-the-internet remote conferencing, in which both voice and images – from multiple locations – must be transmitted simultaneously to offices around the world. This doesn’t involve data storage; it involves “throughput,” the ability to route vast amounts of data from one point to another in real time.

In both – storage and throughput – the challenges remain the same: how to stay current, while planning for tomorrow; how to deal with day-to-day demands while being prepared for disaster; and how to be as cost-efficient as possible while remaining competitively priced data center customers.

To summarize, while the business challenges may seem like separate issues, each is related to the other, creating a matrix of concerns for the operator.

 Interested in learning more? Please visit our Data Centers Knowledge Hub.

Post Script: DNV GL and Data Centers

DNV GL has successfully designed and implemented data center energy efficiency projects on behalf of our utility clients for more than eight years. Our team has significant experience on both new construction and retrofit data center EE projects, from small server closets to co-lo facilities. We work through the entire cycle of project identification, justification, and evaluation, and follow this up with detailed engineering analysis and post-installation review, assuring that the promise of a data center EE project is fully realized.

Our team also is available to work directly with enterprise-wide data center operators to assist them in company-wide energy efficiency initiatives. For more information, contact John J. Greco. John is a D.O.E. Certified Data Center Energy Practitioner, Certified Energy Manager, Certified Measurement and Verification Professional, Certified AEE Building Sustainable Energy Technician Trainer, Certified Lighting Energy Technician with over 25 years of experience, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from the State College of New York.

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