Strategies for Upgrading Existing Data Centers to Boost ROI and Staying Relevant in Today’s Competitive Environment
by Brian Klebash
ASHBURN, Virginia – Strategies for Upgrading Existing Data Centers to Boost ROI and Staying Relevant in Today’s Competitive Environment: How to Improve the Design and Add Value to Legacy Data Centers was the fifth panel of the first day of CAPRE’s Fourth Annual Washington, D.C. & Mid-Atlantic Data Center Summit.
This six-person panel, moderated by Ross Rebraca, Vice-President of the Technology Sector at HITT Contracting, included the perspectives of three end-user firms, as well as a general contractor, a professional from the side of production, and the mechanical/electrical viewpoint.
Rebraca fielded the first question to Mike Casey, President of T5 Facilities Management. He asked him to discuss the struggle between having to lower PUE and maintaining tighter SLA restrictions in the wholesale colocation market. “There are things you can do to increase the chill-water set point, in order to lower the PUE,” Casey began. “Then you have less runtime with normal storage…so that’s a potential SLA impact with a risk.” He explained that his firm purposefully educates prospective end-users about these dynamics.
Dave Meadows, Director, Industry, Standards & Technology, STULZ Air Technology Systems then added his perspective. “Being a vendor, I’m in many peoples’ data centers on a weekly basis,” he said. “I see a lot of what’s actually going on. There’s a tremendous amount of energy that can be saved, PUEs can be lowered,…just by doing some simple house maintenance things and following the newest guidelines on thermal guidelines from ASHRAE for data processing environments.” Meadows concluded by saying that with very little or no capital investment, legacy data centers can certainly improve their energy efficiency.
“We’ve spent a lot of effort on modernizing our IT stack,” added Barry Novick, Head of Data Center Design for Blackrock. “Dollar for dollar, we find that we get a higher return on energy savings through server refresh, virtualization, containerization, and even application modernization.”
Kelly Sullivan, Vice President of Global Data Center Operations for CenturyLink then said that he agreed with the previous comments regarding containment, but added that “You have to get your staff to buy into it, and also buy into utilizing as little space as possible. Try to keep them as dense as you can. Save that square footage on your legacy data centers. Then do a mechanical upgrade, and that will bring your PUE down. Then you can save the utility and generator power and if you have square footage left you’ll be able to power that with the savings.”
Steve Altizer, President at Compu Dynamics, LLC then remarked that the somewhat-negative term “legacy data center” didn’t sit well with him. “The fact is that we focus on small to medium centers. If you have a small to medium legacy data center, you’re pretty much screwed,” he said to some laughs. “You really should close it…because there’s really chance of getting that PUE down.”
The panel then moved onto the topic of the challenges that end-users on the panel face when working with internal stakeholders on upgrades to legacy data centers. Novick responded first, saying that, “To get the best result you have to break down the silos. You constantly hear of the SLAs that facilities are held to by IT guys who have no concept as to what it costs to maintain that SLA, and don’t need it anymore.” By breaking down those silos, Novick continued, we can get people to see the benefit of extending their environmental standards.
Sullivan responded next, saying “The problem is we still have customers coming in with RFPs that require stringent, tight guidelines,” he said. Sullivan then reiterated the need to educate clients about modernized guidelines, and continued, “Once we have one customer in a retail colo that wants a tight SLA, it drives the entire center to be less efficient.”
Altizer then provided his two cents on this topic, sharing a story. “I met a guy from TSA, and he has his hands full. The government has so many data centers that are never going to make that 1.5 PUE. IT’s really complicated, and I feel bad for the colo guys trying to accommodate all these SLAs and try to make PUEs, all at the same time. With big centers, maybe we have scale, it’s a bit easier. But with small data centers it’s impossible.”
Meadows then offered a bit of a counterpoint, saying that “The legacy data center is not a dead duck. There’s technology out there that will allow us to increase watt density, such as high-density pods within the legacy data center.” He said that micro data centers are coming on strong now, and that, “One of the benefits is that you’re able to claw back some of the cooling infrastructure power and provide that to the IT equipment.”