How to learn from data centre mistakes

According to novelist James Joyce, mistakes are ‘the portals of discovery’

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How to learn from data centre mistakes Narender Vasandani, Technical Manager for Siemon Middle East.
By  Narender Vasandami Published  January 21, 2015

According to James Joyce, mistakes are ‘the portals of discovery' and for this to be true we need to be ready to make some and learn from those that we made. Inevitably in a fast moving market, mistakes get made, so here we consider those that we can learn from in order to improve the infrastructure for our data centres.

Perhaps the single biggest mistake that we see repetitively made is planning for a data centre without thinking of adequate future expansion. The amount of space required to house the data centre infrastructure components can be considerable, yet many organisations think only of their IT equipment. Mechanical and electrical equipment requires significant space and IT staging areas must be built in. Therefore it's absolutely essential to determine your design criteria before planning space requirements. As a general rule of thumb, consider what you need and double it - that way you'll know for sure that you have enough room for expansion. Beyond planning adequate space, consider too the higher density options available, so long as airflow and cooling aren't compromised. One good example is the latest design in cabinets, which allows the vertical space between bayed cabinets to be used for cabling in a ‘zero-U' format, which retains the valuable horizontal space for active equipment and improved airflow.

Therefore it's absolutely essential to determine your design criteria before planning space requirements. As a general rule of thumb, consider what you need and double it - that way you'll know for sure that you have enough room for expansion. Beyond planning adequate space, consider too the higher density options available, so long as airflow and cooling aren't compromised. One good example is the latest design in cabinets, which allows the vertical space between bayed cabinets to be used for cabling in a ‘zero-U' format, which retains the valuable horizontal space for active equipment and improved airflow.

Whilst planning for space, infrastructure architecture needs careful consideration. As choices made at this stage impact performance and agility. As a positive example, any-to-all structured cabling, using a centralised patching area, will allow servers to be placed where it makes the most sense for power and cooling, without the distance limitations of point to point cables and without the concern for switch port usage and availability, the added cost of power and maintenance for additional switches as in a top-of-rack configuration.

Cooling considerations
It is very important to have a well-designed physical layer infrastructure due to the big impact it can have upon power and cooling costs, which represent up to 44% of data centre's total cost of ownership. Careful choice of cabling and cabinets will positively influence the flexibility, modularity and scalability of your data centre. Cool thinking means that the most effective and efficient passive methods can be designed in rather than total reliance on energy hungry approaches.

Greening the data centre isn't a post-design activity, but rather should begin with making sound choices based on a holistic perspective at the outset; taking cabling infrastructure, pathways, active electronics, power and cooling into account when designing and specifying anything within the data centre ecosystem. For existing data centres, affordable steps can be made to help control the ecosystem, such as monitoring and managing power using intelligent power distribution, decommissioning unused servers that still consume power and balancing airflow. In any data centre, a programme of continuous improvement should be created to achieve long-term cost and efficiency benefits. Even from the smallest of steps, impressive reductions may be gained and the impact over time can be significant.

Often we see power-hungry methods of cooling prevailing, yet with some foresight other more efficient and economically-sound approaches can be included such as passive cooling, hot or cold aisle containment, liquid cooling doors and free air cooling. There's no one right answer, but it's certain that planning cooling from the outset can create significant advantage.

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