How Data Centres Are Diverging

In one corner, you have modular data centres which can be dropped in and set up on minimal notice. In the other, you have businesses continuing to operate in data centre facilities that are 25 years old. Neither is going anywhere any time soon.

Binary picture from Shutterstock

One of the most persistent themes I’ve noticed throughout the Data Center World experience is that shiny-floored brand new data centre builds are a relative rarity. While it’s always tempting to focus on the new and exciting, data centres represent a long-term investment. Ten years might be the period after which a data centre clearly pays off, but for many operators, that’s only the start of how long a centre will be expected to run.

Jospeh Furmanski from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), whose advice on implementing tablet technologies in the data centre we looked at earlier in the week, is typical. The newer of UPMC’s data centres was constructed 19 years ago. Its secondary centre is a quarter of a century old, and wasn’t even purpose-built. “It used to be a multi-storey car dealership before they made it into a data centre,” Furmanski said, noting that concrete walls are a particular challenge for cabling.

At the newer end of the spectrum, Dave Rotheroe, senior technologist for global data centre services at HP IT, described how HP is now largely using modular data centres for its needs. Easy repair is a key appeal here. “Any one of the building components can fail catastrophically and I can keep running, then come in with a crane and pick up and replace the unit that isn’t working,” he said.

At HP’s scale, there are some clear cost benefits. “It really is cheaper. It actually cost me less to deploy facilities on a per-KW basis than to build a larger brick and mortar data centre.” That ties in with other figures quoted during the conference.

As with most IT decisions, there are no absolutes: HP has unusual processing needs, and UPMC is unlikely to spring for a relocation any time soon. Both operators make the best of what they have.

Lifehacker’s World Of Servers sees me travelling to conferences around Australia and around the globe in search of fresh insights into how server and infrastructure deployment is changing in the cloud era. This week, I’m in Las Vegas for Data Center World, looking at how the role of the data centre is changing and evolving.

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