The incredible shrinking data center

Some IT managers are saying 'smaller is better' when it comes to data-center size.

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The university also will use small UPS modules to maximize the amount of usable power as well as optimize efficiency. "We hope to save money on our energy consumption, our electricity," County says. The data center is expect to use 45 percent less power than a conventional design, potentially saving more than 300,000 kilowatts per year of energy.

As the new data center takes shape, it's bringing together servers and other equipment previously scattered across Melbourne in various university buildings. "We've already centralized over 350 machines and reduced the number of boxes, to about 240," County says.

Viva virtualization

Virtualization is a must-have for reducing data center size and accompanying costs, agrees Peter Castaldi, co-founder and principal of Kovarus Technology Solutions, a South San Francisco-based company that specializes in data center design. "If you take 100 servers and reduce them down to 10, that's 90 servers that you no longer have to pay an annual support fee on -- servers you no longer have to pay electricity for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, regardless of whether they're 10 percent or 100 percent utilized," he says.

Environmental costs also will collapse, he notes. "That's 90 servers you no longer need to pump cold air into to keep them from burning up," Castaldi says. On the other hand, managers shouldn't assume a direct 90% energy cost reduction, since the remaining 10 servers could very well have larger workloads, he adds.

Virtualization also leads to more productive and better performing data centers, Castaldi says. "It changes a lot of processes and best practices. It changes the way you use your hardware, your storage, your networking -- it changes the way you do a lot of things," he says.

Virtualization also forces managers to pay more attention to the way they configure and run systems. But the results more than justify the extra effort, says Castaldi, pointing to lower capital expenditures, operational savings, improved disaster recoverability and reduced time and lower management costs as the fundamental benefits that data center downsizers can expect to experience. "And it's all a direct cost savings," he notes.

While virtualizing servers is perhaps the best method of lowering hardware overhead, managers intent on slashing data center size also need to look for other technologies to virtualize. "Think [beyond] server virtualization -- it's about virtualizing your entire data center," Castaldi says. "There's storage virtualization, desktop virtualization and virtual lab automation." All of these things can be brought into play to conserve space and resources, he adds.

Mercy's mission

David Shaw, executive director of data center services for Sister Mercy Health, also is managing a data center consolidation project. In the past, Mercy, which operates 18 hospitals and scores of other health facilities across seven Midwestern and Southern states, has juggled as many as seven data centers. The arrangement wasted space and resources and was difficult to manage, Shaw says.

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