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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.

Location is another consideration. As Hill points out, energy costs are usually going to be more expensive in Manhattan than in rural Iowa, for example, and so will the price of square footage.

All of this is leading more companies to turn to cloud or hosted resources, he says. That alleviates the need for maintaining the data center and doing hardware upgrades. "You don't have to deal with" capital expenses, Hill says. "The cost of physically managing that environment becomes the responsibility of your provider rather than being an expenditure of your company."

Dealing with rapid growth

Companies experiencing growth are also finding their data centers can't always stay as efficient as they need them to be. "IT and business are so tightly linked now that a company can only grow as fast as its IT infrastructure will allow," says Tony Iams, managing vice president at Gartner. This was a concern for Carfax, a provider of used vehicle history reports. It had two data centers and several vendors providing a variety of services. Meanwhile, the company has experienced an average of 15% to 18% growth annually, and space, power and cooling became problematic as IT condensed server racks, says Chris Thomas, network manager at Carfax.

Carfax opted for colocation and is now renting floor space at data center provider CyrusOne. The company maintains five data centers; two are for internal support and three are for customer support. The benefit is that Carfax can continue to grow and doesn't have to worry about scaling the heating and cooling and space in the main data centers, Thomas says.

If you build your data center in three different locations to ensure four or five nines of redundancy, he says, "there's zero customer impact,'' says Thomas, because if there is a problem with one data center, the other two "take over and handle the load and manage the traffic."

The target goal for Carfax's three colocated data centers is for each to run at 33.3% for equal load balance of servers and storage, with a plus or minus based upon a customer's location, he says, adding that IT systems will direct a user's request to the fastest responding data center at that moment.

The virtual world

When companies want to avoid having to revamp their physical data centers, another option is virtualization. Purdue Pharma, a privately held pharmaceutical company, was experiencing "a significant amount of server sprawl" with its HP systems. The company was also using HP blade chassis, and each chassis was "an island unto itself" with different code levels and complex setups, says CTO Stephen Rayda.

Also, its disaster recovery plan relied on software that was going to be discontinued by the vendor and was protecting only the 20 most critical apps in the company, while the rest were backed up on tape, "and whether we could recover the full system was questionable," Rayda adds.


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