Novelty or necessity? Storage, server optimization in data centers

Data centers can't function on spinning disks and dedicated physical servers any longer. Cloud, virtualization and SSDs bring computing up to speed.

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Facility, power and cooling design trends are important, but so are the innards of the data center. Some mega trends like cloud computing have revolutionized workload management. Less hyped but still important fads are catching on, such as replacing spinning disks with solid-state drives for storage optimization.

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In this article, we'll feature these data center trends:

Virtualization

Virtualization is not only here to stay; it's continuing to grow with clear server optimization benefits. It will probably never be possible, or at least realistic, to virtualize everything in every data center. But consider two factors: processor utilization of 90% or better versus the 5% to 10% norm of dedicated physical machines; and virtualized computing environments that are self-healing.

But like so many good things, virtualization doesn't mean that workloads are magically as easy to host as the promoters would have us believe. As too many have learned the hard way, virtualization is like marriage; it should not be entered into lightly, and once the commitment is made, it's not that easy to back out of. The same could be said for cloud computing.

The cloud

More data center trends

These aren't the only fads in data centers today. Check out the rest of this series, which covers data center trends in cooling, power, design and performance.

Adiabatic cooling, DP humidity control and more

ToR switch to data center containers: Design, layout fads

Powerful fads in power design

Very little in the history of IT has been hyped as much as cloud computing. It is not really new, just a renamed grouping of teleprocessing, remote processing, shared processing and colocation along with virtually unlimited bandwidth and the maturation of virtualization. All these factors make on-demand services much more realistic than ever before, as well as more affordable for certain applications.

But there is much to learn, improve and understand about where cloud services are best used and most effective. And cloud security has a long way to go. Cloud services will not totally replace customer-owned data centers for a long time, if ever. The principle of caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware -- certainly applies to contracting for cloud services.

SSD storage

Hopefully, solid-state drives (SSDs) are here to stay and their time has come. We can't handle the energy consumption of millions of spinning disks much longer, at least not with the enormous demand that email, social media and archiving regulations have put on our storage systems.

SSD continues to improve and is coming down in cost, to the point that its price/performance curve could intersect that of disk by 2015. There are still issues of long-term reliability, and we won't really know those answers until SSDs are more widely used, but the IT industry seems to be going in the right direction. I hope so.

About the author:
Robert McFarlane is a principal in charge of data center design at Shen Milsom and Wilke LLC, with more than 35 years of experience. An expert in data center power and cooling, he helped pioneer building cable design and is a corresponding member of ASHRAE TC9.9. McFarlane also teaches at Marist College's Institute for Data Center Professionals.

This was first published in October 2013
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