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Guest View: Cutting through the complexity

Mike Jansma | July 19, 2013
Planning and controlling data centre downtime.

Unplanned and expensive downtime is on the rise due to greater complexity in the data centre. With trends such as mobile computing, server virtualisation and cloud storage increasing the intricacy of demand, more system failures, human error and natural disasters are causing unplanned data centre outages. It's been claimed that businesses lose 300,000 hours and S$3.84 billion[i] (US$3.03 billion) in total each year due to unplanned downtime, which significantly impacts the viability of a business, damaging the company's reputation and costing millions in future business opportunities.

But a data centre can't function without experiencing some downtime, when vital equipment needs to be replaced, upgraded or routinely maintained. The art lies in controlling this downtime, planning it effectively into the data centre schedule and understanding how to utilise the right technology to keep it to a highly efficient minimum.

Avoid the unexpected

One specific cause of unexpected downtime is equipment failure, which can happen for a variety of reasons within the data centre environment. At some point, all kinds of IT gear; components; electrical kit, and so on will fail - this can't be avoided. But the key lies in fitting the data centre with back-up tools that will provide the intelligence and monitoring required to alert engineers before problems are likely to occur.

In this way, the power of the PDU (power distribution unit) is almost downgraded to being unimportant and uninteresting. On a basic level, the PDU sits within the server rack, metering and monitoring the distribution of power to the server. Further functionality is provided by intelligent PDUs, which can continually monitor for threats and alert data centre managers of potential electrical circuit overloads, and any changes in the physical and environmental conditions - such as fluid leaks or temperature variations - which might place critical IT computing loads at risk. 

Hot-swapping

Avoiding unplanned downtime and minimising scheduled outages relies on effective forward-planning and future-proofing through purchasing decisions. It means investing in the right technologies to ensure that simple component failures won't cripple operations needlessly. The ability to hot-swap PDU components allows engineers to perform crucial maintenance or replacement schedules without having to power down servers.

The temptation is understandably to make savings where possible to expand the relevant data centre budgets for greater operating capacity, and this means the PDU is often the last on the shopping list. However, this is a dangerous false economy. Much like the budget airline equation - on the surface the price seems like a great deal, but once meals, priority boarding and seat fees have been added - the cost has risen above and beyond the scheduled airlines set price. Factoring in the huge costs to reputation and loss of business due to unplanned downtime, the lack of concern for buying the right component is both a costly and risky strategy.

 

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