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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Siting data centers remotely allows Yahoo to tap into lower data-center utility costs in, say, Washington or Oregon. Noteboom says the build time is much less for these remote facilities -- in some cases just six months compared to the more typical 18 to 24 months, and that also reduces costs compared to building in a large urban location. (Notebloom calls these the "NFL cities.")

The main benefit to building faster, he says, is greater accuracy for figuring out how much computing power Yahoo will need when the facility is complete -- it's just easier to do capacity planning for six months down the road versus two years hence. "The faster you build, the less you need to rely on the crystal ball looking that much more forward into the future."

In addition, Noteboom says Yahoo has started using a new approach where services can be scaled up or down dramatically as computing needs change. In the past, an entire data center would be rated for a specific uptime and capability. But now those ratings can be much more granular. Using the company's software, called Yahoo Data Center Flex Tier QOS Design, IT workers can allocate which power utility should be used, which backup generators and UPS to buy and what level of redundancy is required.

An example Noteboom gave: Email or search might require high availability, while a new beta service for checking stock quotes might not need as much. Yahoo can set different QoS levels for those applications. In the past, all applications would be locked into the same QoS.

The software also allows Yahoo to move applications and services to servers with high redundancy or to use a cluster, if possible, when one or two nodes go down for a short time.

Another way Yahoo scales is by having more options with the local utility company. A new data center might start off using only 1 or 2 megawatts of power but could scale up to 20 megawatts. (Many data centers are built to use a specific power draw based on an arrangement with the local utility.) Before construction begins, Yahoo contracts to use multiple utilities in the same data center, or have flexible contracts from the same utility, and even arrange different tax incentives for each level of service.

"From a cost perspective, this gives us more bang for the buck instead of having redundant investments," Noteboom says.

So far, the new flexible QoS approach is working well. A just-completed data center in upstate New York has a PUE rating of 1.08, says Noteboom, mostly due to the ability to adjust services to application needs. Not every UPS and every server is running full bore all day; rather, the IT staff adjusts to the current QoS needs of the application.

Pund-IT's King says Yahoo is onto something. "This is an interesting approach, especially the granular adjustment of QoS according to an app's importance. It could be a notable addition for cloud service providers -- a way to better structure their deals for end customers," he says.

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