The Incredible Shrinking Data Center

Some IT managers say smaller is better, as they see lower real-estate and energy costs.

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IT managers also need to pay attention to ongoing hardware density advancements, Sams adds. Using denser hardware, IT managers can shrink facility footprints and costs while keeping pace with rising workload demands.

"Technology is getting a lot smaller, [which] means you can jam a lot more of it into a smaller space," he says. "A data center may find itself doing three times the computing for two times the energy."

Phil County, director of IT services at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia, is another manager looking to benefit from a compact data center. County is overseeing construction of a data center complex that will be large enough to meet the university's extensive computing and networking needs yet small enough to generate savings in hardware, energy usage, real estate and other areas.

"Our objective is to have the data center as small as possible," he says. "Rather than having one of those big football-field-sized data centers that used to be around in the old days -- and still are in many places -- we're creating a new kind of data center."

Victoria University operates 11 campuses and other sites in the greater Melbourne area, educating more than 45,000 students. The university views the new data center complex, located in two separate sites in the towns of Sunshine and Footscray, as critical to supplying educational services to its students and supporting administrative functions.

"We wanted to ensure that we plan for future growth, so we acquired a design and a solution that could meet our data center needs for at least the next 10 years -- including increased power, cooling, space and floor load capacity," County says.

Although it will be operating the new data center in two locations, the university is creating a single logical facility that will offer redundancy and flexibility. The Sunshine facility will occupy 325 square feet, and the Footscray site will cover 650 square feet.

Virtualization, high-density racks and a modular design will enable the university to minimize energy demands. The data center also will use in-row cooling, targeted at the heat load source, and it will take advantage of Melbourne's chilly winter climate for free cooling.

Traditional cooling systems rely on electricity to drive compressors to reject heat and produce cold air, County says. The Victoria University cooling system has that capability, but it also will use ambient air within certain temperature ranges to reject heat and provide cooling.

"At [15 degrees Celsius] this process begins to work, providing free cooling, and at below 5 C the ambient air temperature does all of the work of the compressors, thus saving clients the use of the compressors to provide the cold air," County says. "The system is set up to ensure that these processes work without requiring human intervention -- so whenever the ambient temperature reaches the threshold, the system kicks in."

County says the data center is expected to use 45% less power than one with a conventional design, potentially saving more than 300,000 kilowatts of energy per year.

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.

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