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Data Center Budgets Face Radical Changes

Consortium head says facilities costs are surpassing the price of hardware

By , Patrick Thibodeau
October 30, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The business value arising from Moore’s Law, which says the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years, is being turned on its head by the rising costs of providing power, cooling and other facility support for servers. Those costs now exceed the price of the computing hardware, says Ken Brill, founder and executive director of The Uptime Institute Inc., a consortium of corporations that run very large data centers. In an interview with Computerworld last week, he talked about those escalating costs and outlined what IT managers can do to improve data center energy efficiency.

Ken Brill, founder and executive director of The Uptime Institute Inc.
Ken Brill, founder and executive director of The Uptime Institute Inc.

What’s the biggest threat facing data centers? The economic breakdown of Moore’s Law.

What do you mean by that? Historically, facilities costs have been 3% of IT’s total budget, but the economic breakdown of Moore’s Law means that facilities costs [including power consumption] are going to be climbing to 5%, 10% and higher. That will change the economics of IT. The business question becomes, Will IT get more money so the increasing portion of the budget that facilities represents doesn’t crowd out other IT initiatives? Or will the increasing facilities [costs] result in curtailing other things? That’s the economic truncation of Moore’s Law.

What’s the business cost of the breakdown of Moore’s Law? The business cost is that the return on investment that people think they are going to get is not going to be there.

How can business and facilities representatives work to adapt to increasing facilities costs? The application justification process needs to change so it includes all the cost. Typically, you are looking at just the IT cost of the hardware and the cost of running that hardware.

Companies can’t eliminate the use of larger and denser servers, so how can they change the economics? First, when buying equipment, look not only at performance per dollar, but [also] look at performance per watt. Be sharper on buying. IT has to become conscious of energy efficiency and put pressure on the manufacturers to be more energy-aware. That’s going to benefit everybody in the long term. A second thing is to kill dead servers — servers that are still running but not actively doing anything.

How much of an issue are dead servers? From 10% to 30% of the load in a data center is represented by servers that aren’t doing anything. By turning off those servers, you can cut your energy consumption. The problem is there is no incentive — there is risk but no incentive — to turn them off.

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