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25 May 2011

Data centres: The discussion

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C XO invites five leading data centre solution providers to discuss the hot topics of the industry, from delivering faster and cheaper data centres to understanding the agility and scalability required to respond to industry demand.

Good data and information management is key for any business, but what is driving today's increased pressure on companies to deliver faster and cheaper data centres?

Damien Simon . The amount of data that is being processed is increasing rapidly. By 2015 the amount will double compared to 2007.  There is good technology needed to cope with this demand. Think of technologies such as consolidation and virtualisation using blade servers with fast I/O ports.

At the same time, economic circumstances increase the pressure on IT departments to bring down operational costs, while one cannot make any compromises on safety and security. Finally there is increasing pressure on the whole data centre industry to become more energy efficient.

Keith Sullivan. The digital age is dramatically changing the way we communicate. With ever increasing expectations on speed, availability and accessibility, and the help of fast-developing technologies, the Net Generation is producing and consuming data at a rate exceeding the amount of data processed in all of human history within three years. To date, Moore's law holds true - capacities of the digital technologies such as computing power, storage density, resolution of capturing devices, data transmission speeds double every two years.

Companies strive to improve customer responsiveness. As a result, more transactions take place electronically, data centre services are now critical to virtually every business. Furthermore, transactions and success in the financial markets depend on microseconds while regulations (Sarbanes-Oxley, BASEL) require companies to keep more data available and traceable.

At the same time, businesses need to be run profitably. In times of financial crisis and global competition, provisioning of digital services is not excluded from cost optimisation. Organisations look at both: investments and operational cost.

Lisa Brown . The demands and needs of the business to deliver more with less continue to increase through this tough economic climate. The challenge and drive is for faster deployment at a lower cost with a superior architecture. The data centre is a critical infrastructure for most organisations and information management is critical fuel for the success of their business.

IT executives and data centre and facilities managers can no longer get away with simply growing capacity to meet demand. They are also challenged with managing the overall efficiency and effectiveness of their growing operation. Energy costs alone are anticipated to be the fastest-growing cost in datac entres as organisations expand infrastructure capacity to meet evolving business and IT demands. The ability to find ways to reduce this expense while the pure requirement for the resource is growing can be daunting.

William DiBella. The principal business drivers for cheaper and faster data centres are: energy growth, power & cooling costs, increased KW requirements per square metre, need for increased floor space, cloud computing, sheer number of legacy data centres that need to be refreshed to meet today's as well as tomorrow's future business and technology requirements.

Data centres are evolving into a commodity; this dynamic - coupled with the pressure of achieving the data centre Holy Grail of 'IT optimisation' - has resulted in lowering costs, increasing efficiency and implementing newer technologies.

Power consumption within the data centre increases costs and adds pressure on budgets. CIOs are being proactive in preparing for tomorrow's problems and major issues. If they do not implement cheaper and faster data centres, they will

be burdened with excessive energy costs that will impede their ability to compete. Increased automation, capacity planning, monitoring techniques, virtualisation and consolidation have also contributed to faster, cheaper and efficient sites.

Management's business message will continue to be: 'increase efficiency to deliver more for less.'

Stefano Mozzato . Performance and efficiency without compromise: briefly stated, this is the current mission of organisations. The efforts of companies to optimise their data centres are aimed at ensuring that data processing environments can meet increasing computing capacity requirements, while offering high flexibility for future architecture developments. Both of these keep the focus on energy cost reduction and on granting no risk for system availability, which is crucial to business.

Many companies are looking to streamline their data centres, so what solutions do you offer that can enable them to do so?

DS . Nexans offers structured cabling solutions to support dependable data centre infrastructures that meet key operational, economic, energy saving and future growth requirements. To start with future requirements, we offer fibre and copper cabling solutions that provide easy and cost efficient migration paths to higher bandwidth such as 40G and even 100Gbps.

Furthermore, high-grade copper cabling systems (such as category 7A) are designed to help the energy savings initiatives of IEEE.

Data centres tend to have limited floor space, which we address with high density panels, racks and cabinets. There is normally very little time available for integrators to deploy cabling. We address this with pre-manufactured and pre-tested cable assemblies that can be installed very quickly.

KS . Cloud computing and the underlying virtualisation of servers and storage locations require flexible and capable networks. Simultaneously, energy costs drive the deployment of efficient equipment as computing power density (kiloWatts/equipment rack) has been increasing rapidly and data centre space become a scarce and expensive resource. Altogether, network cabling accounts for less than 5 percent of the overall IT infrastructure cost. Investments in legacy technology can turn initial savings into huge efforts and increased follow-up cost when time comes for system upgrades.

Network infrastructure solution providers need to offer cabling systems able to accommodate the next two or three generations of transmission technology.  A combination of space-saving connectivity and fast and easy deployment and use with a pay-as-you-grow ability allows scaling at minimum effort in system planning, installation and management.

LB . When it comes to streamlining data centres, organisations want products and solutions that carry less risk, less cost, less space, less complexity and lower energy consumption. They also want the ability to work with just one vendor that can provide a complete turnkey solution. It comes down to convenience, value, accountability and a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

With these principles in mind, Active Power developed PowerHouse, a line of modular, containerised continuous power solutions primarily designed to support enterprise data centre applications. PowerHouse is factory-built and tested for rapid deployment and can be located inside or outside your data centre. PowerHouse contains all critical power infrastructure components in one streamlined, space-saving containerised package. The system typically contains diesel generators; Active Power's patented high efficiency flywheel UPS (uninterruptible power supply) system; switchgear; and monitoring and controls software.

PowerHouse operates at an extremely high energy-efficiency level and has lower service requirements and maintenance costs as compared to traditional infrastructure. The result is a significant TCO savings, up to 60 percent compared to that of a traditional infrastructure and up to 45 percent in the first year.

WD. Centric Solutions' custom infrastructure cabling connectivity products and solutions are designed and manufactured with RFID value added capabilities. Through the combination of our software -'Centricity' - enabled RFID connectivity products, and uniquely designed RFID portal systems, the client for the first time has an end-to-end RFID automated information system.

This solution effectively enhances your ability to manage, monitor and track assets, time stamp activity, provide instant correlation of product, location, time, and personnel for improved security and real time inventory. Additionally RFID can automate cable management documentation, ease the difficulties in locating data cables, supply readily available information on product attributes, minimise your workload through automating the management of assets and the relationships between assets resulting in a seamless path that streamlines infrastructure costs, labour, time and simplifies many of your processes.

Centric Solutions' EN Series cabinet system streamlines data centre space (footprint) requirements, reduces air flow obstructions from cable under the raised floor, simplifies installation time and routing of cables, and reduces cable slack management problems above and below the raised floor. Our custom designed fibre optic jumpers are smaller in diameter through the utilisation of single-body connectors. Our fibre optic trunk cables possess superior protection from our sub-unitised construction while also maintaining a small diameter. Centric's high density front access patch panels minimises cabling installation costs and reduces the number of cabinet bays required to house fibre optic connectivity. Overall, our custom infrastructure products and solutions diminish the complexity of your processes and infrastructure topology.

SM. We offer solutions that address the needs of all sizes of computing environments - from small data centres (starting with a couple of racks) up to large data centres with thousands of racks. Our expertise allows us to start with the assessment of the existing infrastructure through site survey and to address from the data centre infrastructure layer (cooling, power protection, power distribution, racks, cable management, local monitoring) up to the IT infrastructure management through the broadest offering of data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions available, from brands like Avocent, Aperture and Liebert.

How do you ensure your data centres remain agile and flexible enough to respond to fluctuating business demand?

DS . Personally my first message is always: you need to decide first about the design or architecture. It is a bit like designing a house: you can use the best materials you have, but if your bathroom is in the middle of your kitchen it's useless; you really need to put things in the right place. For the design of data centres the question is: Do you go for top-of-rack, end-of-row or middle-of-the-row? Each have their plusses and minuses. Generally speaking to achieve best flexibility and agility the last two options are the better ones. These designs accommodate future changes easily and most cost effectively.

The best approach is to regard infrastructure solutions as a structured cabling utility, rather than a patching system. It may cost a bit more initially but it will definitely pay back during its lifetime when changes to network and increased bandwidth requirements are to be implemented.

Finally it is important to have the right management tools in place to monitor physicial connections in real time. That can help in planning, controlling and reporting for operational improvement.

KS . New technologies often come with new requirements on the infrastructure. These requirements need to be addressed at an early stage, when standardisation is still in progress, if one wants to build a future-proof solution that last for more than one generation of networking gear. Network infrastructure solutions must enable moves, adds and changes while keeping the cabling manageable. Homogeneous media infrastructure based on laser-optimised optical fibres allows an every-to-any approach to connecting network devices, keeps the physical layer flexible to create varying logical and functional network configurations and topologies, and can provide for seamless migration across generations of data transmission technologies up to 40/100 Gbit/s.

LB . We deliver flexibility through a modular product approach. Our PowerHouse product line as well as our CleanSource UPS line are both modular in nature.  They allow the client to grow their system in line with their needs, not spending precious capital or using valuable space before it is necessary. With many competitors, growing a system in the field may require taking operations offline.  With Active Power, this is not the case as we can deliver and deploy additional capacity to meet growing client needs and business demands without disrupting business operations.

WD . Utilisation of either public or hybrid cloud computing sources can assist you in solving the challenges that fluctuating business demands bring. Not only does cloud computing support your requirements of agility and flexibility through its pay-as-you-go business model, it also delivers added cost savings in the areas of capital expenditures of servers, energy costs, IT management, floor space, enterprise infrastructure connectivity and storage requirements.  Additionally, the time frame required to install hardware and implement your clients' business or increased workload is reduced, resulting in a faster revenue stream and improved cash flow.

Focusing on scalability and capacity planning, leveraging technologies such as: virtualisation, automation and identifying qualified readily available outsource vendors are also key points to consider. Understanding the importance of personnel is critical. Establish a strong cultural environment for employees from top to bottom of your organisation to exchange ideas and review processes on a regularly scheduled basis.

SM. Emerson Network Power's solution platform is adaptive and meets the requirements of all kinds of data centres, whatever the layout, dimensions and features of installed servers and devices.

In our portfolio we have innovative solutions that can condition IT rooms only when and where necessary, with no energy waste. Environmental solutions located intra-rack or directly inside server cabinets offer maximum flexibility in the construction and expansion of a data centre.

The key point is that those solutions have been developed to address the needs of our long-standing customers' installations.

What are the infrastructure complexities that need to be understood in order for a company to extract a greater, more efficient performance from their data centres?

DS . There seems to be a natural divide between the facilities management and the IT management of data centres. This sometimes adds an extra complexity to good performing data centres. This was confirmed in a study we recently conducted on "greening" data centres. We deliver tools that can help both departments to manage the physical infrastructure to plan, control and report. These tools are often used for increased security with IP traffic controls and alerts. They can also link to energy saving through power and environmental monitoring.

KS . Today, data centres are divided into functional areas that often fall under different administrations. Server specialists provide computing power; storage experts various levels of memory space. Connecting everything falls into the responsibility of the networking group. Sometimes the cabling itself is even assigned to facility management. In order to leverage the potentials of a holistic network infrastructure approach, these functions and areas need to be aligned. Array fibre-based backbones provide for migration capabilities where legacy duplex fibre networks may not meet the performance specifications for skew, insertion loss and distance capabilities required in parallel optics applications like 40 and 100Gbit Ethernet and High Performance Computing technologies such as Infiniband. Running different generations of transmission speeds or upgrading to higher speeds in the data centre requires laser optimised multimode fibre links. These fibres, known as OM3 and OM4, support legacy and emerging transmission speeds and provide for most cost effective solutions and extended reach in data centres up to 40/100Gbps.

LB. Understanding total cost of ownership (TCO) is key. To achieve a low TCO, the components must be well understood and their performance easy to measure. To help enable this for continuous power infrastructure, Active Power provides a variety of tools. Prospective clients can visit our website to try out our efficiency calculator, which measures at a high level the potential implications of different infrastructure choices.

For clients we are working with one-on-one, we offer an in-depth TCO consultation that incorporates the specifics of the client's operation, environment and organisation to deliver a comparison to typical alternatives or actual existing infrastructure. For clients utilising our infrastructure, our systems offer a real time monitoring and reporting platform that provides critical performance data on the system that can easily be extracted and analysed. Or, we can seamlessly integrate into a client's building systems platform, feeding critical data into the management platform our client has chosen.

WD . The Infrastructure complexities that a company experiences will vary greatly depending on the size and age of their facility, specific business requirements, personnel experience level, management's involvement in industry organisations and the educational conferences they attend.

Generally speaking, most data centres over time will encounter the need to solve varied infrastructure complexities. They include: controlling growth in power usage, implementation of various cooling technologies, server virtualisation, cloud computing, understanding the specifics of physical layer infrastructure connectivity

on migrating from 10 Gig, to 40/100 Gigabit, asset management & tracking, automated information gathering techniques and processes, capacity planning, automation to achieve increased operational efficiencies, greening and IT optimisation processes. Measuring data centre performance and efficiencies is dependent on understanding the metrics involved; many industry organisations can provide the tools needed to assist you.

SM. Optimisation needs to be considered at the data centre infrastructure level, and not only at each individual technology level, such as cooling, power, monitoring etc. Virtualisation, specifically, has created a dynamically changing application environment operating on a static physical environment, exposing a critical information gap between the data centre and IT infrastructure layers and the inefficiencies that gap creates. In addition to a broad range of solutions from switchgear to power and cooling equipment, Emerson Network Power has expertise and solutions on both sides of that information gap.


Damien Simon is product manager for data centres at Nexans Cabling Solutions.

William DiBella founded Connectivity Technologies, served as President of AFCOM, and is currently President/CEO of Centric Solutions. He has been published in ITO America, Strategic Path, BMUS, CXO, and RFID Journal, and has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, and TXCN. He has 30-plus years' experience in physical layer infrastructure connectivity design.

Lisa Brown leads Active Power's marketing and sales operations units with responsibility for integrated marketing, product management, marketing communications, public relations and sales operations functions. Prior to joining Active Power, Brown spent 14 years with Broadwing Communications where she held executive positions including vice president of Marketing, Sales Operations and Customer Operations.

Keith Sullivan started his career in fibre optics in 1994 and joined Corning in January 2000. In this time he has worked in Process engineering, Development engineering, Sales, Marketing, Product Management. After two and a half years as the Sales Director for EMEA for Corning's enterprise business, he has recently transitioned into the role of Marketing Director for EMEA. He has a wealth of experience in fibre optic infrastructure, having worked with all the major European telecom providers and extensively in enterprise projects across the EMEA region.

Stefano Mozzato , Emerson Network Power Marketing Director for Liebert Business in EMEA. He started his career in R&D, and then he took over the responsibility for the Flexible Space System business, a segment of business linked to the intelligent building. Since 2004 he has been leading the EMEA Marketing Team and since 2009 he has been given specific focus on Product Marketing for Liebert Precision Cooling Products, Data Center Solutions and on Strategic Marketing for Liebert products.

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