Article

Afcom Fall 2006: Reporter's notebook

Mark Fontecchio
ORLANDO -- Bruce Shaw sees a lot of comparisons between data centers and automobiles.

The head of commercial and enterprise marketing at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) gave the keynote address Monday morning at the Afcom conference in Orlando, and spent his time talking about power consumption in the data center. In the process, he spelled out parallels between cars and data centers.

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For one, he said, don't believe the vendors' published benchmarks. That would be like seeing a sticker on a car for sale that said it got 22 miles per hour and believing it. Instead, he said data center managers need to test their own environments. Better yet, the industry as a whole needs to come up with a plan.

"As an industry we're going to have to come up with better ways to measure the problem," he said.

Another parallel? Oil and power. Both are precious commodities. Both are required for the operation of automobiles and data centers, respectively. And both involve heavy addictions.

"We know as an industry that we have a problem," he said. "We understand pieces of the problem, but we don't understand the whole picture."

A few solutions Shaw offered are consolidation to midrange servers, multicore processors and virtualization. Another is The Green Grid, a consortium formed this spring with the intention of tackling the aching problem of power and cooling in the data center. AMD is part of the group, as is its chief rival, Intel Corp. Other major vendors that are part of the group include IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Shaw said after the presentation that members of The Green Grid have been working to organize itself and develop a charter. Because of the size and number of players involved, there has been plenty of debate, and the group hired an independent management company to mediate it all. Once the nonprofit creates a board of directors and an official set of rules, it will contribute to talks around date center metrics, such as a server energy efficiency standard.

Prevention, not reaction, in the data center

About 20% of data center staffs are devoted to dealing with incidents, and Mark Levin, a partner at Milford, Conn.-based data center consulting business Metrics Based Assessments LLC, thinks that's too much.

That number comes from a study of clients by Metrics Based Assessments. Meanwhile, only about 5% of data center staffs are dealing with change management. Levin said if that seesaw was better balanced, companies wouldn't be dealing with as many incidents because the change management staff would be preventing them.

"Twenty percent of your staff solving problems is too much," he said.

Levin headed the "Best Data Center Practices" session at Afcom Monday morning, covering a wide swath of issues, such as allocated disk space, data center spending and storage. He said data center managers need to develop an asset management system before the assets become problems and the problems turn into downtime.

This is how hackers do it

Shortly into his presentation on data center security, Gary Miliefsky blurts out a Web site and tells the attendees to write it down: www.netcraft.com.

Then Milifesky, the CEO of Bedford, Mass.-based security appliance manufacturer NetClarity, goes to the site, looks up a bank and shows that the company is running outdated Web servers that would make a hacker drool.

That's how easy it is to find vulnerabilities in a publicly accessible port in your data center. Find what server you're running, what security program you're running and then do a simple Google search to find out how to exploit it. Milifesky said data centers must get smart to what hackers are doing and beat them to it.

"Don't worry if your network is loaded with holes," he said. "The secret to success is counting the holes and working to fix them. Just don't leave your windows open and your keys in the car."

He cited the four Ds of good security: detect, deter, defend and defeat. He also cited ISO 17799, an international standard for corporate security, as a goal to stride toward, and suggested visiting the National Vulnerability Database (nvd.nist.gov) to see what openings your data center might have and how to fix that.

Even so, Miliefsky said a data center run by people, who are by nature vulnerable to being scammed, can never be completely locked down.

"You will never be 100% secure," he said. "If a sales guy comes in and says this box does it all, it doesn't."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer


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