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Extending the life of your data center

Sandra Gittlen | Oct. 12, 2011
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the 1,200-square-foot data center at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

Take the pressure off of high-value applications and infrastructure. Early on, Olin College purchased an $80,000 Tandberg videoconferencing system and supporting storage array. Rather than exhausting that investment from overuse, Kossuth now prioritizes video capture and distribution, shifting lower-priority projects to less expensive videoconferencing solutions and YouTube for storage.

For example, most public relations videos are generated outside of the Tandberg system and are posted on the college's YouTube channel. "The data center no longer has to supply dedicated bandwidth for streaming and dedicated hardware for retention," she says. More importantly, the Tandberg system is kept pristine for high-profile conferences and mission-critical distance learning.

Standardize servers and storage. Dan Blanchard, vice president of enterprise operations at hotel giant Marriott International, boasts that his main data center is 22 years old and he intends to get 20 more years from it. He credits discipline on the part of IT as a reason for its long life, particularly in terms of standardization.

Each year, the IT team settles on a handful of server and storage models to purchase. If a new project starts up or one of the 300 to 400 physical servers fails, machines are ready and waiting. Storage is handled similarly.

Even switches, though on a longer refresh cycle of about five years, are standardized. "Uniformity makes it much simpler to manage resources and predict capacity. If you have lots of unique hardware from numerous vendors, it's harder to plan [out the data center]," Blanchard says.

He recommends working closely with vendors to understand their roadmap and strategize standardized refreshes accordingly. For instance, Marriott might delay a planned refresh if a vendor's announced feature sets are worth it.

Virtualize whatever you can. Blanchard also is a fan of virtualization. Marriott's pool of physical machines supports almost 1,000 virtual servers, freeing up floor space, power and cooling. Though virtualization requires high-power, high-density servers, the fact that Marriott is able to consolidate the pool to several hundred physical machines that are energy-efficient saves on overall data center consumption.

Gartner's Kumar agrees that consolidation is a positive for data centers because low-utilization servers -- those dedicated to just one or two applications -- consume almost the same amount of energy as highly utilized ones. "Just to keep a server on consumes 50% to 60% of the energy as it would if it were running full," he says.

Also, older servers tend to be far less efficient than those used for today's virtualization efforts.

Root out and retire unused or low-utilized devices and applications. Taking the previous point a step further, "organizations should "clean house," Kumar says. Data center managers should conduct an audit using asset management software or other such tools that garner visibility into application and hardware inventories.


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