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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Viva Virtualization

Virtualization is a must-have for reducing data center size and accompanying costs, says Peter Castaldi, co-founder and principal of Kovarus Inc., a South San Francisco-based firm 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, seven days a week, 365 days a year, regardless of whether they're 10% or 100% 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, IT managers shouldn't assume there will be a direct 90% reduction in energy costs, since the remaining 10 servers could very well have larger workloads, he adds.

While virtualizing servers is perhaps the best method of lowering hardware overhead, managers intent on slashing the size of their data centers 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."

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 staffs -- to resist being forced into 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.

Although data center downsizing can lower many costs, Castaldi notes that enterprises need to be realistic in their expectations. Some data center costs -- such as those associated with the size of the IT staff -- aren't affected by the facility's 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."

Edwards is a technology writer in the Phoenix area. Contact him at

This version of this story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition. It's an edited version of an article that first ran on

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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