Agencies Seek Bigger Boosts in Efficiency, Performance

DATA CENTERS ARE AT the heart of modern information technology infrastructure, but what’s demanded of them has changed and that will only accelerate in the future. Squaring the increasing mismatch between today’s data center and the future needs of the enterprise is the single biggest question IT organizations face.

In government, the issue to date has focused on how much money can be saved while providing the data processing capacity agencies need. It’s not a new concern. In 2005, Congress mandated a study of government data centers into an energy policy act that was delivered in 2007. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required agencies to improve their environmental, energy and economic performance.

That requirement was strengthened by Executive Order 13514. Issued in October 2009, it set sustainability goals focused on those same three areas for federal agencies. Last year, Congress introduced the Energy Efficient Government Technology Act, which puts the improvement of data center efficiency strategies front and center.

“We think that could produce extraordinary results, because it requires the use of energy-efficient technologies,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said shortly after its introduction. Reports show that “data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the power they pull off the grid [and] we think government should be leading by example.”

The Government Accountability Office has projected that planned reductions in data center numbers and server consolidation could save as much as $150 billion to $200 billion by 2020.

Traditional data centers were built to last, but after 10 about years, their equipment becomes outdated. That makes them more prone to errors and mistakes in the data processing they do and to inefficiencies in operation. The most critical part of that is with cooling, which is the source of many of the complaints that have bedeviled the cost of running government data centers.

The cost of patching these data centers along the way, which means agencies have to spend capital they don’t have on facilities that are increasingly unable to meet their IT service requirements, is also a cause of complaint.

However, savings and energy efficiency are not the only requirements. The data center of the future also needs to be “better aligned with IT projects, which means it should add capacity when it’s needed, in the form it’s needed and at a generally lower unit cost than today,” said Daniel Bizo, a data center technologies analyst at 451 Research.

That requires a major rethink about how the next generation of data centers is designed and built. And a new generation is needed, he said, because “building a traditional data center is slow and expensive, which leads to substantial financial risks and limits any data center’s ability to react to changing needs effectively.”

Cloud, network and server virtualization, automated capacity provisioning, software-defined data centers, dynamic data storage architectures, and modular and prefabricated data centers are just some of the technologies that will be part of the next-generation data center.

But perhaps the biggest pointer to the expectations of these data centers will be in the way they are measured. Power usage efficiency (PUE) and, in some areas, water usage efficiency (WUE) have been the principal metrics. They’ll still be important, but going forward, it’s the manufacturing industries that will be a better proxy for data center operations, Bizo said, focused more on the effect of gross and operating margins, management of capital outlay, output, and utilization and unit costs.