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 organization is now working on a compact new facility that's designed from scratch to meet Mercy's precise needs in workflow, configuration, energy use and other critical areas. But before construction could get underway, Mercy needed to find a site.

"We wanted it to be away from any major fault lines, away from tornado paths. We also needed to make sure there was accessibility to suppliers in terms of the high-speed connections into the sites," says Shaw, noting that Mercy selected a location in Washington, Mo., close to its St. Louis headquarters.

In developing the data center, Shaw's goal was to create a virtualized facility that's as compact as possible, given the health care provider's large business- and medical-related IT workloads. The data center raised floor takes up 9,500 square feet, Shaw explains. Like Victory University's County, Shaw specified a scalable modular design that would allow the data center to shrink or expand as the need arises. "We haven't constrained ourselves in power and cooling, so we can keep bolting on as we move forward," says Shaw, adding that the facility will open next year.

Words of advice

The biggest challenge in data center downsizing is planning, Gonzales says. "You really have to be careful in designing everything so that every last piece fits," he says. "You certainly don't have space to waste."

While some observers might expect IT managers -- and their staff -- to rebel against the notion of being forced to creating a shrunken professional domain, Gonzales says that a smaller data center doesn't reflect on his skills as an administrator or the work his team performs. "We're judged on how well we do our job, not on how much area we consume," he says. Show agrees. "It's a concept I've never even thought about," he says.

Although data center downsizing can exert a positive effect by lowering hardware, energy, real estate, maintenance and other costs, Castaldi notes that enterprises need to be realistic in their expectations. Some data center costs are isolated from the facility's size. Downsizing isn't likely, for instance, to have much of an impact on staff size.

"We don't necessarily see companies reducing IT staffing levels," Castaldi says. "Instead, their IT staff can work more intelligently, and [managers] can get more bang for their buck out of them."

Many administrators spend a lot of time doing repetitive tasks, such as backups and writing reports, that new data center technology can automate, eliminate or perform more quickly, Castaldi says. Among the many cost areas that are unlikely to be affected by data center size are software applications and utilities, and network services including Web hosting and security.

Rare would be an enterprise that has shrunk its data center but hasn't reaped multiple positive results, particularly when virtualization is part of the plan. "With a reduction of physical servers, you can't expect the heat not to go down, your power consumption not to fall and to not reduce your overhead costs," Gonzales says. "In all of those respects and more, small is good."

John Edwards is a technology writer in the Phoenix area. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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