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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Do Watts per Square Foot Even Matter Anymore?

I think about this question a lot, and it is one I am asking more as well to customers and peers in the industry. There are hundreds of facilities that were built 20-30 years ago and a few dozen that have been built in the past 10 (remember the .com bubble?) and I am being conservative. They were built with a solid approach for 20 years ago - build a building using a watts/ft metric to calculate costs, density, and ultimately capacity. Remember that Wang, Digital/DEC, and IBM mainframes were the systems of choice. Then the PC came on the scene, and drastically changed the dynamic of computing. Client/Server, new network protocols, ARPA, TCP/IP and http - the evolution was on.

So too were manufacturers evolving - building smaller footprint, higher capacity machines. These machines were 2-3x as powerful as their predecessors, taking up half the space. Companies could consolidate their huge footprint monlithic systems inside their data centers and make room for more. Or could they?

Today, to me it seems like deja vu all over again.

The computing world has shifted again by using virtualization, and those smaller more powerful servers, just got smaller (so small you can't touch or see them), went virtual, and companies are embracing the next evolution with gusto. They are also hitting the wall that IT managers who are retired or dead hit decades ago - power.

Why is this happening again? In a word - heat.

These smaller machines draw more power, and generate a lot more heat for their footprint. Ask a multi tenant data center operator who services the retail market on a cabinet by cabinet basis and they will tell you that cabinets full of gear that draw 4.8Kw are going in next to cabinets with 10-14 Kw. The higher density cabinets generate a lot more heat that needs to be removed from the floor so all the densities of the servers with their heat signatures can be maintained properly.

What is intrinsic of a 20 year old facility that makes it better to satify growing densities, evolving computing applications and hardware, and whatever comes down the pike? How does the colocation market evolve at the same time? When do we hit the wall, or do we hit the wall? Can you simply throw more air conditioners/handlers on the floor? Can we just continue to push utilities to increase generation and distribution? What happoens to the cost models?

I am starting to think that we are at a crossroads. Why do I believe this? Because data centers are starting to evolve. Containers, modular buildings, more flexible options. Until the hardware manufacturers get together with data center operators and do some R & D in a meaningful way, share roadmap, do testing together, we will continue to build the way we have, and not the way we must.

Want to play together - ping me. I want to figure this out...

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