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Data center land grab: How to get ready for the rush

More than half of all data centers will relocate or expand significantly by 2015

By Sandra Gittlen
March 12, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Call it the Data Center Land Grab of 2007. Big-name companies like Microsoft, Google and HSBC have already ponied up hundreds of millions of dollars this year to stake their claim to acres of land across the country, their first step toward building state-of-the-art, next-generation data centers.

These behemoths are not alone.

"Data centers are the fastest growing sector of site selection in the technology industry. I've never seen this much growth," says John Boyd, president of Princeton, N.J.-based The Boyd Co. and a 32-year veteran of the location scouting market.

Boyd says two factors are primarily responsible: an onslaught of compliance mandates that require better handling and storage of data and a swell in government pressure to make data centers more energy efficient.

Microsoft last month announced it would spend $550 million for a 44-acre lot to build a 400,000-square-foot, two-building data center in San Antonio. Meanwhile, Google announced it would build a $600 million facility in Lenoir, N.C., and a $750 million data center in Goose Creek, S.C. For its part, HSBC North America also has big data center plans -- a $166 million project in Buffalo.

Much of the rest of IT is set to follow suit. In a 2005 AFCOM study of the organization's 3,000 data center members, more than 60% of the respondents said they plan to expand the physical footprint of their data centers within 10 years.

Rakesh Kumar, an analyst at Gartner Inc., says he's not surprised by this flurry of activity. "Many large enterprises either are running out of space or they have space that can't accommodate the needs of the newer technology. That means today's data centers are functionally obsolete," he says.

He points to the power and cooling demands of data center darlings like blade servers. "They require more energy and cooling than older data centers can accommodate," he says. Blade racks are supposed to accommodate up to a hundred individual blade servers, but the limitations of older data center infrastructure, such as electrical and HVAC systems, often force IT crews to dramatically decrease that number. "Instead, they are putting only 20 blades in a rack," Kumar says.

Throwing out the old

A big reason for the land grab is the enormous expense of trying to retrofit today's data centers with more efficient facilities infrastructure.

"A lot of organizations are going through cost-driven consolidation to reduce the number of data centers they might have. The one big data center they end up with has to accommodate all the storage, servers, etc.," Kumar says.

But most data centers can't accommodate that type of setup, and it's often much more cost effective to move rather than try to retrofit. "You'll need a high level of voltage coming in to provide a high amount of energy to the rack. You may need to rip out air conditioners and put in chilled liquid cooling. To do this once you've got everything going is incredibly expensive," he says.

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