The Future Of Data Centres

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Editor’s Note: The following is article is contributed by the experts from Schneider Electric 

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Malaysia has been successful in attracting major data center operators to both Cyberjaya and Iskandar Malaysia. These global data center operators are choosing to set up their operations in the country because the land is easily available and the global network providers are already here.

At a recent regional media meet organised by Schneider Electric in Singapore, IDC stated that the 3rd Platform for IT, which encompasses a combination of big data, mobility, social collaboration for business and cloud computing is taking a strong hold this year. The “3rd Platform” is built on a foundation of cloud, mobile, social, and big data technologies that enable the all-important digital transformation, evolution, and expansion of every industry over the next several years and beyond. As most business strategists and IT leaders are still trying to wrestle with managing the IT infrastructure needed for the 3rd Platform, the IT industry is not waiting for anyone, and IDC predicts that the 3rd Platform will continue to expand beyond smartphones, tablets, and PCs in 2014 to the Internet of Things (IoT). Simon Piff, Associate Vice President, Enterprise Infrastructure IDC Asia/Pacific defines the Internet of Things as ability for physical objects, or “things” to seamlessly connect to the Internet and become active participants in business processes.

Yet, probably the main driver for the tremendous growth of the 3rd platform and the Internet of Things has been the shift from premised data centers and networking to cloud computing. IDC expects that cloud computing will more than double by 2017 with 80% of new cloud apps being “big data intensive”.

Indisputably, the foundation to cloud computing and hence, both the 3rd Platform and IoT is data centers. According to IDC Asia Pacific Transformative Infrastructure Index 2014, close to 60% of data center operators in Asia Pacific are looking to expand upon their existing facilities to cope with and take advantage of the disruptive business opportunities the Internet of Things is bringing on. This bodes well for Malaysia, but there are challenges.

Experts estimate that no data center older than five years can cope with the needs that cloud computing, Internet of Things and big data will continue to drive. While worrying about high capital expenses and lengthy times needed to upgrade the data center capacity, it’s easy to fall into the trap of planning, designing and building datacenters in fundamentally the same way it’s been done for decades.

Pre-Fabricated modular data centers
Traditionally, a data centre is designed to house the full computing capacity and its associated power and cooling needs that are projected to be required over the next 10 years, right from the start. In reality, most data centers start at 30% usage of the total capacity and ramp up over the years. This translates to a typical loss of nearly 50% of the entire capital cost due to capacity overprovisioning.

As an alternative, Siegfried Drexler, IT Business Enterprise Business Development Manager at Schneider Electric, APJ, introduced pre-fabricated data center modules. These pre-engineered, pre-assembled and pre-tested data center physical infrastructure systems include power and cooling as well. When needed, these modules are delivered immediately as standardized “plug-ins” to efficiently add capacity to an existing data center or build a completely new outfit. This approach addresses the problem of overprovisioning by allowing end users to deploy capacity as and when it is needed and in the specific area it is needed.

Pre-fabricated data center modules not only reduce the energy spent on unnecessary capacity overprovisioning and its accompanying power and cooling needs, they are also inherently designed to ensure a more efficient use of energy and space. Built with durability in mind, these quality pre-fabricated data centers can withstand the harshest environments. Standardized and integrated, pre-fabricated data center power and cooling modules provide a first cost savings of 13% or more compared to traditional data center while enabling considerable energy savings – an important aspect considering that data center energy costs seem to be creeping to claim up to 50% of operating costs.

Additionally, pre-fabricated modular data centers offer additional advantages including portability so that businesses can physically move their data centers with them once their project is completed; much faster speed of deployment of 16-20 weeks, compared to up to two years that planning, designing and building of a traditional data center can take and simplified training for the maintenance staff thanks to the standardized modules – an important consideration for the industry plagued with shortage of skilled talent.

According to Drexler, with the acquisition of the company called AST Modular, Schneider Electric now has the longest and proven experience in pre-fabricated modular data center solutions. Headquartered in Barcelona, AST modular has delivered over 450 data center projects in the past 14 years and is the first company to build a Tier III certified multi-module data center.

Adding Intelligence to the equation
Data center managers around the world are turning to automated data center systems to control, manage, monitor and report on mechanical, electrical and IT components of the data center to help manage their operations proactively instead of reactively. Andrew Sylvester, Pacific Data Centre Software Manager, IT Business, Schneider Electric defined Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) as systems that collect and manage data about all data center assets, resource use and operational status throughout the data center lifecycle. This information, he elaborated, is then integrated, analyzed and applied to finding optimal ways that help managers meet business and service- oriented goals and optimize the data center’s performance.

The Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) market has been increasingly flooded with products claiming to be DCIM but not offering the full suite of monitoring, automation, management and analytical capabilities. There is also a lot of confusion in the market as some vendors claim that to implement DCIM operators will need to install a whole slew of new management tools so they’ll all work together. With an open DCIM tool, such as Schneider Electric’s StruxtureWare that is not the case, says Sylvester, as it’s built on a Web services platform, so it can work with any other tool that produces Web services type output.

The Schneider Electric StruxureWare dashboards display real-time critical alerts, device failures, data within the data centre physical infrastructure layout, and recommendations on how to resolve them even via smart tablet and smart phone apps. The ability to make such informed decisions from a “building administration-to-server” perspective through a unified management system is what most data centres today are lacking. Fewer than 10 percent of data centers utilize DCIM and 451 Research estimates that the DCIM supplier revenue will grow at a 44 percent compound annual growth rate until 2016.

On top of the DCIM, the use of Services Bureau, which combines 24/7 remote monitoring of data center assets, data science and predictive analytics, is an emerging trend that will give data centers a real competitive edge.

Data science combines computing techniques with mathematical and statistical knowledge to extract insights, such as how to adjust power and cooling capacity to meet a rapid shift in demand. When combined with the use of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software and domain expertise in power and cooling, data science can help a data center adapt predictively to volatility without wasting resources.

Trouble is, there aren’t enough data scientists and domain experts able to interpret the analytics, says Brian Parkinson, Director for Strategy and M&A, Advances Services, IT Business, Schneider Electric APJ. As a result, there is a real talent shortage able to apply data science to data centers.

Schneider Electric developed a Services Bureau approach to meet this need. A Services Bureau offering brings more precision and predictive power to the way data center physical infrastructure (DCPI) is managed and is shaping up to be the best way to respond to rapidly changing demands brought on by big shifts in both IoT and information technology (IT) like digital commerce, mobile apps, and cloud computing.