CIO Alert: Key Data Center Improvements

Even with all the information about proper hot and cold aisles, dueling CRAC (Computer Room Air Conditioners) units, and improper return air dynamics, IT (Information Technology) teams are still operating inefficient data centers with glaring problems.

Compounding this problem is the fact that facilities managers and IT mangers rarely collaborate to understand the data center as a system. Jon deRidder, a veteran of data center audits and CEO of Enabled Energy, provides some insights into critical data center improvements in this interview.

Jon brings experience in energy conservation, airflow management, due diligence, data center layout design, and remediation for data center environments.  He has served as a subject matter expert for the State of Colorado in the area of environmental contamination.

You work within many industries to improve their data centers. What do you find is the top misconception held by CIO’s with respect to their data center?

There are two common misconceptions that I see.  These misconceptions stem from how an organization views IT.

The most common misconception in an organization where IT is viewed as a cost center is that the data center is also a cost center only.  In this economy it is wise to consider turning the data center into your organization’s secret weapon.  Reducing the Cost of Goods Sold while improving speed and agility will give an organization a coveted advantage over the competition.

In organizations where IT is viewed as a critical component to the organization’s health and well-being, the misconception is that the data center manager knows everything that is going on in the data center.  There is a great need for improved visibility when managing these complex environments.  Pervasive monitoring systems along with the appropriate training and knowledge of industry trends will save any CIO’s data center significant amounts of time, money, and effort.

Can you elaborate on the first steps a CIO should take to get away from operating a data center as a pure cost center?

The first step to moving in this direction should be to form an understanding of the actual costs involved in running the data center, and then create an internal billing system that allows for IT to bill (internally) for their services.  This will set the stage for meaningful investments to be made not only in the infrastructure, but also the process and human resources managing the center.

Even in these organizations that view IT as a critical component, using outside help encounters resistance because the norm is to search for free information and implement point solutions. What kind of time and effort can you save these kinds of organizations?

Implementing point solutions has, in many cases, made the actual or original problem worse.  “On-boarding” key stake holders in the data center takes a tremendous amount of time along with constant, consistent and clear communication.  Most often times we (Enabled Energy) are brought in as the translator to help everyone understand the mission at hand and how everyone is going to receive benefit.

Is it fair to say that despite all the “green” hype, many data centers are blind to how much power they are using? Where do you find the low-hanging fruit of power waste in the data center?

Absolutely, energy usage metrics like PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) and CUE (Carbon Usage Effectiveness) are now accepted as industry standard, however PUE and CUE are not fully understood and are therefore not as useful as they could be.

Where is the lowest hanging fruit in an existing data center?

  • Most data centers are dramatically over-cooled
    • Raise the set point in the data center.
    • Seal cable cutouts, place perforated panels at computer intakes and implement aisle containment will help to get more aggressive with the temperature increase in the center.
    • Convert airflow supply (the fans on your CRAC units) from a static supply (and almost always under-rated at our altitude) to a dynamic supply such as an EC (Electronically Commutated) fan retro-fit to save ~30% and  improve reliability.
    • Implement a refrigerant economizer to a DX (Direct Expansion) system for a reduction of about 3,000 hours of compressor run time.

Colorado Data Center operators are leaving money on the table because of their ignorance of rebates. Can you elaborate on this program? Is there a deadline?

Xcel Energy has recently increased the rebates for participation in their data center program.  Xcel will fund up to 75% of a data center audit (capped at $25,000) and then rebate up to $600 per kW saved.

The program includes rebates for energy savings measures including: virtualization (of your server, network and storage environments), implementing airflow improvements (sealing cutouts and replacing or moving perforated panels), raising set point temperatures (these are almost always too low), improvements in the humidification cycle or methodology (steam vs. ultrasonic etc.), reducing electrical losses (replacing older UPS equipment, etc), and performing a lighting retrofit (or placing motion sensors in the space).  Nearly all data centers have done one or many of the above listed items and very few have taken advantage of the rebates available to them.

It seems that the big gap for data center improvements is the lack of visibility into facilities costs. How do your studies cross that chasm for customers? Are CIO’s surprised at the outcomes?

One of the things that I have learned over the years is to calculate the cost of doing nothing.  This can be very eye opening.  The holistic approach that we have developed helps the CIO to increase their visibility to the hidden costs (and vulnerabilities) that reside in their centers, and then bring out the benefits (and programs) that will bring value to the effort at hand.

Often, data center efficiency concerns begin with IT staff trying to get the attention of executive decision-makers. So, the cost of doing nothing includes all of these individual efforts instead of experts that can reach beyond specific technology concerns. Do you have advice for these professionals?

My advice is to identify the vulnerabilities first, how many single points of failure exist in the center, how much stranded capacity exists that has become unavailable, and then engage experts who can rapidly build a compelling business case for the C-Suite in a language they understand. Often, IT professionals need help to translate their concerns into something upon which the organization will willingly act.

Why go it alone when a catalyst like our firm can expertly contrast the cost of doing nothing with the savings of an effective plan?

What should every CIO know before they decide to move or consolidate their data center?

The facts – all of them…summarized to a fine point!  My concern has evolved over the years as I have seen too many centers wasting too much time, money, and effort solving the right problems, but without maximizing their return.  The problem to solve is a business decision.  After the organization decides where their investments will bear the most return, they need to abandon themselves to the strength of the team they have assembled.  Whether “in-sourced” or “out-sourced,” my job is to maximize that return for the owner of the data center.

Are you facing power, cooling, and efficiency problems in your data center? Contact Jon deRidder at Enabled Energy, a professional services firm focused on critical environments through its process of Discover – Optimize – Sustain.

About E-Oasis: E-Oasis moves data centers and provides the unbiased, independent expertise to make your data center relocation a success. Use the contact information to your right to get started.

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