Attention, data center managers: Copy these innovations

From cooling tips to advice on where to locate your data center, tech giants share the lessons learned during recent builds

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Another way Cisco has improved its data centers is with cable management. John Manville, Cisco's vice president of IT, says Cisco has saved $1 million by reducing the number of cables in its data centers.

"Most people don't realize" that cabling accounts for 10% to 15% of total data center costs, says Manville. "That reduction in cables also keeps the airflow moving better, and with the new cooling technology we installed, we expect to save $600,000 per year in cooling costs."

Besides this consolidation, Cisco is also figuring out how to reduce hardware and management costs for each operating system and each server. Manville says the costs today are around $3,700 per physical server per quarter. Through virtualization, he expects to reduce that cost down to $1,600 per physical server per quarter and eventually hopes to reduce that figure even further, down to $1,200 per server per quarter.

The Texas data center is actually two separately located facilities that operate as one, a concept called Metro Virtual Data Centers (MVDCs), which Cisco developed internally and does not sell publicly. The company plans to open two more MVDC facilities in the Netherlands by the end of 2012, for four data centers operating as one.

The MVDC approach is not about cost savings or energy conservation, because both data centers run the same applications at the same time. Instead, Cisco uses the technique for replication: If a natural disaster takes out one data center, operations continue unabated in real-time.

Like Google, Cisco is highly focused on efficient operations. Manville says the Texas facility goes a few steps further than most data centers. For instance, power is distributed at 415V for a savings of about 10% compared to the typical lower-voltage systems used in other data centers. The facility also uses all-LED lighting for about a 40% savings in energy use compared to incandescent lights, he says.

LED lights are expensive, and about where compact fluorescent bulbs were when they first appeared, says Charles King, an analyst with PUND-IT in Concord, Mass. "Over time, as costs come down, LED will become a no-brainer so Cisco deserves kudos for pushing the envelope."

Yahoo sites data centers in remote locales

The traditional data center approach is to locate at least one major data center in a city, or at least in a reasonably large population center, to be near IT administrators so they have easy access to servers and storage. According to Scott Noteboom, Yahoo's senior director of data center engineering and operations, that concept has changed dramatically in recent years.

Yahoo operates larger data centers in more remote areas. The company is building five new data centers in North America, Europe and Asia. This new location strategy would not be possible without improvements to the software used for management, which has advanced such that IT employees at Yahoo headquarters can manage the finer details of a data center -- such as storage and virtual servers -- remotely. Notebloom declined to provide any more details about how they do this.

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