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Decisions, decisions: Choices abound as data center architecture options expand

Esther Shein | Dec. 23, 2014
American Red Cross manages 40% of the U.S.'s blood supply, so stability, reliability and tight security are of paramount concern, says DeWayne Bell, vice president of IT infrastructure and engineering.

A majority of organizations will stop managing their own infrastructure and make use of on-premises, hosted managed services and shared cloud offerings in service providers' data centers, says Richard Villars, vice president of data center and cloud research at IDC. As a result, there will be a consolidation and retirement of existing internal data centers, while service providers continue to build, remodel and acquire data centers to meet the growing demand for capacity, Villars says.

Additionally, in the last five or six years the physical footprint of servers has been shrinking, especially with the rise of virtualization, and the number of servers that companies traditionally have had to manage is no longer necessary, explains Steven Hill, senior analyst of data center solutions at Current Analysis. "Data centers designed around physically larger environments all of a sudden have all this space available."

The data center architecture choices available today mean that companies can focus on providing a higher level of service to their end user community, refining processes and gaining efficiencies. But with choice comes the question of how to figure out what's right for your company. And these days, the question of whether to buy energy-saving servers and other gear is also part of the equation.

"Making decisions comes down, ultimately, to complex issues — at what point do you redesign and start over or continue to work with the space you have and deal with the compression?'' asks Hill. With compressed hardware come challenges with cooling and power delivery. Server racks used to average around 5 kilowatts per rack, he notes, and now it's easy to go to 15 to 20 kilowatts in the same rack space with denser blade servers, for instance.

The rise of cloud computing is also changing the way companies are viewing their data centers because relying on public cloud services can mean less work for the in-house systems. Colocation for disaster recovery and backup is another factor. "A lot of decisions are made on compliance issues or corporate governance that says you need to have a second site," at least 1,000 miles away, to prevent data loss in the event of a disaster, says Hill.

Besides the obvious security and budget concerns, another factor to consider, as in the case of the Red Cross, is whether you have enough skilled personnel to run a data center in-house. And ongoing management of a data center can be some of the highest costs a company has, Hill says. "The cost to power it, cool it and manage it far exceeds the cost of a server itself over a period of time," he explains; other costs are for updating server hardware and software.


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