Data Centers as Information Factories

green-data-centers-bannerBy Dave Ohara, Data Center Consultant and Publisher of

Information Factory
Photo Courtesy of Google

I have been writing on the Green Data Center topic for more than two years. After more than 1,000 blog posts, one of the things that I have found is the name “data center” doesn’t mean what most people who don’t work on them think they are. In the past, there was one corporate building that was the place where data was housed for the corporation. But now, that no longer is the case.

A data center is a facility used to house computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. New technologies and practices were designed to handle the scale and the operational requirements that came with the dot com boom. The standard for Fortune 500 companies now is to have multiple data centers around the world to provide information availability, disaster recovery, and reliability. What does it mean to have multiple centers of data? If you green the data center, what is actually getting greened? And how?

What I propose is a more accurate description of what data centers actually are in this economy.  The data center is an information factory, a building that makes information suitable for use with servers, storage, and networking hardware. Information is therefore the raw material input into the factory. Software running on the hardware processes information, increasing its value.

Like any other manufacturing process, electricity is used to power and cool the machinery.  The amount of power used to run these information factories in 2006 was 1.5 percent of the entire US electricity production, doubling 2000 consumption rates and showing a 12 percent annual growth rate.

So when it comes to greening the data center, it’s really about how to green the way information is processed.   Many are familiar with the practice of making factories energy efficient.  Applied to the information factory, the question now becomes: How do you consume less energy and/or greener energy while increasing the value of information?

Delivering Power More Efficiently
Making power delivery more efficient applies to all parts of the data center. Power and cooling systems are topics that specialists spend their whole careers on, trying to figure out the most efficient way to deliver power and remove heat from IT equipment.  More efficient servers are another choice. And of course there is virtualization, the process of completely abstracting logical storage from physical storage, which allows higher equipment utilization as one server can be made to look like multiple servers, consolidating applications that don’t need a full, dedicated server.

Where do you start creating efficiencies? Most companies start where they have budget to spend. Imagine if you wanted to improve a car’s miles per gallon and approached the problem based on which department had the budget available to make changes to the car. Huh? Sound silly?

Well, that is what happens at most companies as the IT organizations within a company are kept in silos of separation. What is needed is an information engineer whose job it is to figure out a holistic approach to optimize data center power and cooling systems, IT hardware, and software, how to improve the performance per watt in the whole system and prioritize the areas to address.

Companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, and eBay have addressed this problem by creating groups who have responsibilities to engineer their information factories.

Greening the Data Center
Is your company running centers of data or information factories? The ones who think like information factories are driving to new levels of efficiency—increasing performance of information processing per watt of energy while reducing costs per transaction.  It takes breaking down silos, to get groups to work together. Greening the data center ultimately happens by looking at how much energy gets consumed by your information factories so that you can create higher value information.

If you were to spend $1,000,000 to improve your performance per watt, would you know where to invest? My suggestion is to look at spending a portion of that money on measurement systems. If you don’t know what your current performance is, you cannot calculate your true ROI. It’s like trying to improve your car’s performance without any gauges.

Dave Ohara has 26 years of experience at Apple, HP, and Microsoft. Dave works with clients in many ways with a primary focus on looking for competitive advantages to run their data center more efficiently and greener. Dave’s green data center blog is his notebook for information he finds useful for his clients and data center friends.

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