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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However, King is less certain about switching utility feeds on the fly. He says that although it's "novel," its effectiveness "depends largely on locale. There aren't a lot of places where companies have a choice of utility provider. But that situation is also likely to change as more alternative power sources come online," he says.

Intel's chimney stack

Intel engineers have developed a unique chimney stack system that works like a plastic curtain to expel hot air from the server racks. (Intel now licenses the chimney stack technology.) "This is a cost-effective way to keep the cold air in the cold aisle and saves a lot on power consumption," says Kim Stevenson, vice president of IT at Intel.

Stevenson says the chimney stacks, located above each rack, were necessary because many of the data centers at Intel are located within manufacturing facilities. Some of the buildings are not exactly new, so it was a way to work within the existing structure and deal with the heat issues at the same time. The alternative would have been re-locating the data centers, at a much higher cost, to resolve the cold aisle heat-dissipation problem.

Further, Intel has embarked on a strategy to view the "entire data center -- software, servers, storage, networking, and facilities -- as a system that is optimized for specific business needs," according to Intel's most recent annual IT report (PDF). For example, silicon design teams need to run millions of highly compute-intensive jobs each week; Intel IT "met these unique requirements with a high-performance computing grid optimized for design."

Intel's data center
Inside an Intel data center, looking at the back of a server rack and the air-isolation system. Source: Intel.

In general, the company analyzes the performance of its data centers based on four key metrics: efficiency, quality, capacity, and velocity. This year, the report says, Intel plans "to implement business intelligence tools that will enable us to apply supply-chain concepts to our private cloud, helping us better understand demand signals to improve capacity planning."

Another innovation concerns how Intel manages remote access into its data centers, which relates to Intel's changing business model. Traditionally, the company developed only highly technical products, including motherboards and processors, and its data center was closed off and guarded. Now Intel is expanding its business to provide products and services that are more open.

For example, Intel is selling applications for netbooks, and the company must validate users who are purchasing the software. Intel uses its own SOA ExpressWay product to validate all incoming user accounts. Intel Expressway helped IT create a seamless security policy enforcement architecture that simplified the messaging design and reduced unnecessary authentications, Stevenson says.

Stevenson explains that the only alternative would have been to invest in an expensive data center appliance for token authentication related to the outside transactions.

John Brandon is a former IT manager at a Fortune 100 company who now writes about technology. He's written more than 2,500 articles in the past 10 years. Follow his tweets at @jmbrandonbb.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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