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Good planning can ease IT infrastructure space concerns

Your growing IT infrastructure can be a nightmare for facilities planners who have to think about not only physical space, but also updating wiring, power conditioning and cooling.

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Exploding IT requirements have data center managers scrambling for space. They, along with their facility departments, face an almost impossible task -- space planning for technologies that do not exist.

An average 18-month turnover rate on computer equipment hardly jives with the 15 to 25 years projected to update the physical environment and some facility planners have a tough time getting into the groove.

"Facility people can go nuts over the ever-changing IT changes," said Jim Lloyd, director of facilities services at Oregon State University.

And while the pace of IT growth is not ideal, Lloyd admits it is a reality that facility executives have to deal with.

"The technology half-life used to be five to six years. Now it is arguably in the 12-24 month range," said Mike Turner, IS director of infrastructure for Orbital Sciences Corp., an aerospace company in Dulles, Va.

According to Turner, data center managers are able to project technology 24 to 36 months ahead -- in most cases. But none of them have crystal balls and even the best planning has surprises. For example, Turner said he and many of his colleagues didn't foresee the increase of data warehousing and the impact it would have on the data center.

"For example, a pet retailer five years ago wouldn't have thought they would need to manage customer data. But CRM is now a critical piece of business that brings dollars into an organization," Turner said. "Data center managers for these organizations couldn't have known five years ago that they would have 40, 80 or 120 terabytes in their data centers today."

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recently published its second book dealing with data center infrastructure, Datacom Equipment Power Trends and Cooling Applications. According to Don Beaty, author of the book and chair of ASHRAE's technical committee on mission control facilities, ASHRAE is attempting to give guidelines on how to project heat and electricity load trends into 2014.

"We have to plan facilities to avoid premature obsolescence," Beaty said. "It's about projecting loads now and for the future."

According to Beaty, data center managers can start thinking about:

  • Identifying future software applications.
  • Evaluating potential changes to IT equipment based on application changes.
  • Determining the potential increase in power density.
  • Planning for future availability levels.
  • Implementing provisions (financial, spatial, cooling capacity) appropriate to future loads and disruption tolerances.

Despite the foresight Beaty's book may offer, Pad Iyer, director of training and engineering services for Linux Networx, believes infrastructure is just harder to update than equipment. It's a lot of work. Renewing the data center environment can include updating wiring, power conditioning, cooling and physical structures.

"I wish people saw the need to update facilities every five or six years," Iyer said.

For most data center managers, a five-year lifecycle on their buildings is not a reality. So infrastructure planners need to make the most out of the physical environments they have.

According to Lloyd, flexibility is key.

"Interior fit-up walls need to be removable; the entire facility needs to be built on raised floor tile where all power and cabling is under the raised floor; and the HVAC needs to be zoned in such a way to allow contraction and expansion of space," he said.

Robert E. McFarlane, president of the Interport Financial Division of New York-based Shen, Milsom & Wilke Inc., recommends building a separate, dedicated central cooling plant in order to add cooling capacity as needed.

"Past a certain point, you can't pump more air under the floor," McFarlane said. "The upper limits for underfloor air conditioning to be effective are 5,000 watts per cabinet or 100 watts per square foot; beyond that you need localized cooling."

Beyond optimizing the physical environment, Turner sees the industry moving to server and storage virtualization to combat this issue. But the bottom line is that you will always have to put the equipment somewhere, and the rate of IT turnover is not likely to slow.

"A technology manager has to calculate the 'knowns'," Turner said. "But if business is so good that IT requirements are forced to expand, or if a new technology is important to the growth of the business, the organization will make room for it."

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