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May 18, 2015updated 17 Oct 2016 11:56am

Efficiency is not a nice to have – from the chip to the shell it is a constant pursuit

By Guy Clapperton

The environmental pressure group Greenpeace wants all data centres to be green.

Easier said than done and an aspiration that no-one disagrees with.

Data centres are remarkable things. As buildings they look pretty boring. For security reasons they are designed to look dull. They never advertise themselves. No big sign saying Giant Web Company or Major Financial Institution here.  You don’t want to advertise that valuable data is inside. You don’t want to attract any attention at all.

Some clues to how you can usually spot a data centre include the intense levels of physical security surrounding the building and the few car park spaces needed inside the perimeter.

But data centres can’t pretend to be just another warehouse.

This is because they use a lot of power.

Data centres are measured in mega watts of power. And that means that today, operational efficiency is just as important as resilience.

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Data centre designers and developers have been calling data centres ‘mission critical’ facilities for a couple of decades. This was mostly of interest to mechanical and electrical engineers  – the people who’s job it was to ensure the power never failed and the temperature was controlled.

But that all changed and now efficiency is being built into every layer of the data centre stack from the design of the shell and the floor, right up through the electrical subsystems and the cooling technology all the way onto the ‘other side of the rack’ to the IT equipment and right up into the design of the application itself.

After years of ‘standard’ data centre design to fit ‘industry standard servers’ things are changing in the data centre world.

IT hardware design efficiency begins at the chip level how to ensure maximum utilisation while generating as little heat as possible.

Users are no longer restricted to the pizza box or blade servers form factors.

A data centre must accommodate standard servers, flash storage arrays, hard disk arrays, networking switches – usually top of rack – and converged systems which may be large standalone systems with integrated server, storage and network equipment or System on Chip form factors such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Moonshot which fits into standard racks.

System on Chip form factors mean that users can invest in hardware designed and tailored to be application specific – so there is a choice in everything, even starting with your choice of processor supplier.

This means much less power is used, higher utilisation is achieved and networking and storage is fast and efficient.

The topology of the data centre must accommodate myriad equipment. That equipment will exist in many states – virtualised or unvirtualised, primary or secondary, core or edge.

Standardisation and simplification are not always the same thing. For now the demands of the business will decide the infrastructure and the IT equipment. But it is the IT professional who must keep efficiency at the top of his or her list of priorities.

Efficiency can always be improved.

Being green in the data centre will continue to be a goal to be pursued on many paths and not a solution to be deployed.

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