How to Pay for It

Find cost savings by minimizing equipment and maximizing space

The first step in building a data center is learning to deal with sticker shock. New data center space costs at least $1,500 per square foot to start, according to IDC. That means IT managers will first be asked this ROI question: Are you getting all that you can out of the data center space that you have?

There's a lot of technology available that can help you pack more equipment into a seemingly shrinking data center. But if an inadequate data center is impeding business growth, "that becomes a much greater cost than anything you can outlay on building a new data center," says Michelle Bailey, an analyst at market research firm IDC.

Once a decision is made to build, the IT manager must negotiate with vendors to get the best deal. And the old rules apply: The more you're buying, the more leverage you have. And new data centers mean a lot of new equipment. Here are some other tips for getting your money's worth from a new data center.

Minimize the Equipment

Denser equipment that takes maximum advantage of computing power can "in many cases dramatically reduce the footprint required to support the applications [a company maintains] today," says Lee Kirby, vice president and general manager of Lee Technologies Inc., a Fairfax, Va.-based data center development and management firm.

"A smaller footprint equates to less maintenance and cost of ownership," says Kirby. Yet, even with new construction, the battle to control cost and maximize the investment is never-ending. Sam Segran, CIO at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, is finishing a 1,000-square-foot data center expansion and is already worried that it won't be enough to meet the university's needs in six or seven years.

"We have two diametrically opposed things happening," says Segran. "On one side, we are getting crunched by cost issues of providing [cooling and power], and on the other, we're needing to double what we do for the researchers."

The university is looking at technologies that provide more computing power using less energy. One is IBM's new iDataPlex, which includes 84 servers built into a 42U rack (1U is equal to 1.75 in.). Due out this June, the iDataPlex is a dense system that cuts power use in several ways.

For example, using servers of less depth lessens the workload of cooling fans. Preliminary research by the university's IT department found that the system might be able to provide 30% more computing capacity using the same amount of power as a current system.

Maximize the Space

At Denver-based Cimarex Energy Co., data center project manager Rodney McPearson focused on improving his IT systems after the company decided to run a series of small, distributed data centers. Last year, Cimarex installed an American Power Conversion Corp. in-row cooler system that creates an enclosed area for servers. McPearson says it costs roughly $1,000 a month for the system to cool about 90 servers. In contrast, a conventional cooling system in another room chills a similar number of servers for $2,500 a month.

At Virgin America Inc., CIO Bill Maguire says he maximizes the use of space and saves money through a variety of means, including eliminating raised floors and using water-cooling systems from Liebert Corp. that cool from above instead of blowing air up from below. He says his choice of energy-efficient blade technology from Verari Systems Inc. was critical as well. This approach has cut his energy cost by about 27% total, Maguire says.

Make Use of Mother Nature

Microsoft Corp.'s new 500,000-square-foot data center in Chicago will use cooling systems that take advantage of the abundant natural sources of cooling in the Windy City. The technologies are called airside and waterside economizing systems, or "free cooling." Airside economizers use outside air to cool data centers. Waterside technology takes water from a natural source such as a stream, pond or river and brings it in contact with pipes carrying heated water out of the data center. The outside water cools the water in the pipes, which then recirculates back into the data center. Carl Cottuli, vice president at APC's data center science center in West Kingston, R.I., estimates that economizers can cut utility bills by as much as 30% on the days that they are used.

Technology can mitigate the need to find an ideal location. If you can pack computing power into denser systems that use less power and also find ways to tap alternative sources of energy, then taking a step such as, say, building a data center next to a hydroelectric dam might become less important. For instance, a developer that's building a data center in Fall River, Mass., intends to build two wind turbines that could supply 20% or more of the planned 120,000-square-foot facility's power.

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Next: How to move it: New technologies help speed the transition. 

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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