Blueprint: Tips for Avoiding a Data Center Blizzard

We're in the depth of winter and, yes, the snow can be delightful… until you have to move your car or walk a half block on icy streets. Inside the datacenter, the IT Wonderland might lack snowflakes but everyday activities are even more challenging year round. Instead of snowdrifts and ice, tech teams are faced with mountains of data.

So what are the datacenter equivalents of snowplows, shovels, and hard physical labor? The right management tools and strategies are essential for clearing data paths and allowing information to move freely and without disruption.

This winter, Intel gives a shout-out to the unsung datacenter heroes, and offers some advice about how to effectively avoid being buried under an avalanche of data. The latest tools and datacenter management methodologies can help technology teams overcome the hazardous conditions that might otherwise freeze up business processes.

Tip #1: Take Inventory

Just as the winter holiday season puts a strain on family budgets, the current economic conditions continue to put budget pressures on the datacenter. Expectations, however, remain high. Management expects to see costs go down while users want service improvements. IT and datacenter managers are being asked to do more with less.

The budget pressures make it important to fully assess and utilize the in-place datacenter management resources. IT can start with the foundational server and PDU hardware in the datacenter. Modern equipment vendors build in features that facilitate very cost-effective monitoring and management. For example, servers can be polled to gather real-time temperature and power consumption readings.

Middleware solutions are available to take care of collecting, aggregating, displaying, and logging this information, and when combined with a management dashboard can give datacenter managers insights into the energy and temperature patterns under various workloads.

Since the energy and temperature data is already available at the hardware level, introducing the right tools to leverage the information is a practical step that can pay for itself in the form of energy savings and the ability to spot problems such as temperature spikes so that proactive steps can be taken before equipment is damaged or services are interrupted.

Tip #2: Replace Worn-Out Equipment

While a snow shovel can last for years, datacenter resources are continually being enhanced, changed, and updated. IT needs tools that can allow them to keep up with requests and very efficiently deploy and configure software at a rapid pace.

Virtualization and cloud architectures, which evolved in response to the highly dynamic nature of the datacenter, have recently been applied to some of the most vital datacenter management tools. Traditional hardware keyboard, video, and mouse (KVM) solutions for remotely troubleshooting and supporting desktop systems are being replaced with all-software and virtualized KVM platforms. This means that datacenter managers can quickly resolve update issues and easily monitor software status across a large, dynamic infrastructure without having to continually manage and update KVM hardware.

Tip #3: Plan Ahead

It might not snow everyday, even in Alaska or Antarctica. In the datacenter, however, data grows everyday. A study by IDC, in fact, found that data is expected to double in size every two years, culminating in 44 zettabytes by 2020. An effective datacenter plan depends on accurate projections of data growth and the required server expansion for supporting that growth.

The same tools that were previously mentioned for monitoring and analyzing energy and temperature patterns in the datacenter can help IT and datacenter architects better understand workload trends. Besides providing insights about growth trends, the tools promote a holistic approach for lowering the overall power budget for the datacenter and enable datacenter teams to operate within defined energy budget limits. Since many large data centers already operate near the limits of the local utility companies, energy management has become mission critical for any fast-growing datacenter.

Tip #4: Stay Cool

Holiday shopping can be a budget buster, and the credit card bills can be quite a shock in January. In the datacenter, rising energy costs and green initiatives similarly strain energy budgets. Seasonal demands, which peak in both summer and the depths of winter, can mean more short-term outages and big storms that can force operations over to a disaster recovery site.

With the right energy management tools, datacenter and facilities teams can come together to maximize the overall energy efficiency for the datacenter and the environmental conditions solutions (humidity control, cooling, etc.). For example, holistic energy management solutions can identify ghost servers, those systems that are idle and yet still consuming power. Hot spots can be located and workloads shifted such that less cooling is required and equipment life extended. The average datacenter experiences between 15 to 20 percent savings on overall energy costs with the introduction of an energy management solution.

Tip #5: Reading the Signs of the Times

During a blizzard, the local authorities direct the snowplows, police, and rescue teams to keep everyone safe. Signs and flashing lights remind everyone of the rules. In the datacenter, the walls may not be plastered with the rules, but government regulations and compliance guidelines are woven into the vital day-to-day business processes.

Based on historical trends, regulations will continue to increase and datacenter managers should not expect any decrease in terms of required compliance-related efforts. Public awareness about energy resources and the related environment impact surrounding energy exploration and production also encourage regulators.

Fortunately, the energy management tools and approaches that help improve efficiencies and lower costs also enable overall visibility and historical logging that supports audits and other compliance-related activities.

When “politically correct” behavior and cost savings go hand in hand, momentum builds quickly. This effect is both driving demand for and promoting great advances in energy management technology, which bodes well for datacenter managers since positive results always depend on having the right tools. And when it comes to IT Wonderlands, energy management can be the equivalent of the whole tool-shed.