Cutting down to size

Gartner research vice president Dave Cappuccio looks at how better data centre planning might reverse the seemingly endless growth of data centre floor space.

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Cutting down to size Gartner research vice president Dave Cappuccio.
By  Dave Cappuccio Published  March 18, 2014

Gartner research vice president Dave Cappuccio looks at how better data centre planning might reverse the seemingly endless growth of data centre floor space.

Data centre growth is often seen as a linear tend, where floor space is consumed in a continuous fashion based on average growth rates in devices and applications across an organisation. New data centre space is often planned at least five years in advance, by extrapolating the future value of the current-size requirements — using average growth and estimated life span of the future data centre.

The problem with this strategy is it’s based on two flawed assumptions. Firstly, it assumes that existing floor space is being used to its greatest efficiency. Secondly, it doesn’t take into account the changing technology landscape. New technologies and methodologies can and have changed both how efficiently space can be used in a data centre and what is required within that space. Therefore, a linear method of defining data centre growth is no longer valid.

To help IT managers or leaders better plan ahead, Gartner has identified four key factors that can and do have an impact on data centre growth.

Firstly, efficiency used to focus on people and processes, but today the focus has shifted towards physical assets. There is pressure to attain a more efficient cooling and floor space configuration, while maximising the use of existing rack space before adding more. This work can significantly affect the growth curve of floor space in the data centre if plans make better use of vertical space before expanding the floor capacity.

Secondly, most growth plans are based on the assumption that the equipment in place today is the baseline for future space, power and cooling needs. However, this fails to factor in technology refreshes; for example, smaller form factors for servers and storage, and improved performance and density per unit combined with reduced power and cooling requirements. A well-designed technology refresh cycle, with a well-designed infrastructure, can sustain growth rates of 10% or more every year, for decades, without any need to increase floor space.

The third point is that cloud services are changing data centres. Although migrating workloads to the cloud may not be viable for all organisations today, service providers will continually improve the types, and viability, of available services. As the market evolves, it would not be uncommon for many organisations to offload non-essential work to speciality cloud providers as a viable alternative to on-premises computing becoming more mature. Data centre planning must account for the likelihood, and predicted extent, of this kind of hybrid cloud use within any given organisation.

Finally, disaster recovery and business continuity needs are often dealt with as a separate, one-off plan, whereas they should be an integral part of the overall data centre strategy. Rather than having excess capacity always available in case of an emergency — often in a secondary location — those same resources can be used in daily operations to support non-critical development and test activities, while offsetting growth requirements in space, power and cooling.

Today, the successful data centre planner must integrate growth, technology trends and refresh cycles — as well as business continuity requirements — into their high-level strategies. By mapping current growth rates against the effects of technology refreshes and taking into account the percentage of workloads that could move to a cloud service provider, it becomes clear that a future data centre could, in fact, be far smaller than what is needed today.

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