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Dell extends data center lifespan with virtualization

Dell now offers data center services to extend a data center's lifespan by employing efficiency tactics such as virtualization, server hardware refreshes and hot-aisle/cold-aisle containment.

On Dec. 2, Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. joined competitors Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. with a set of data center consultancy services designed to help users extend the life of existing facilities and avoid building out new data centers.

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Many of Dell's customers have hit a power wall because their data centers were built more than a decade ago, and weren't designed for today's compute demands, said Dr. Albert Esser, the vice president of power and infrastructure solutions at Dell. That leaves companies with two options: build a new data center or renovate an existing one, which both entail very high cost.

But Dell believes that there is a third option: "Using your existing data center more efficiently is a better solution. So we are offering data center optimization services surrounding servers and storage to help customers get more out of their existing data centers," Esser said.

Extending a data center's lifespan
Dubbed the Reveal Your Hidden Datacenter strategy, Dell's new services come eight months after HP announced its data center consultancy services based on its 2007 acquisition of EYP Mission Critical Facilities Inc. More recently, Sun Microsystems announced it too would offer data center design advice through a new segment of the company called Sun Data Center Services. Dell's data center services strategy is threefold: extending the life of existing data center by implementing server virtualization to increase server utilization, decommissioning out-of-use equipment and refreshing legacy systems.

Of course, hearing Dell advise people to "refresh hardware," -- that is, to buy new Dell servers -- may seem self-serving. Why replace a perfectly good server that is already paid off with a newer one? Well, Esser said, "Once a server is paid off, it is sitting in your data center taking up more square footage and using more power than a newer server would.

"There is no such thing as a free server," he added. "Look at your performance per watt when deciding when to refresh hardware – old equipment creates power and cooling complications."

Users should expect Dell consultants to show bias toward Dell equipment, but Esser said Dell will support heterogeneous virtualization environments. "We recommend vendors based on the customer's needs," whether it be VMware, Citrix, Hyper-V, or some other virtualization vendor, he said. Dell will also advise users about options like Software as a Service (SaaS) and the use of cloud computing to extend the life of their existing data centers.

In addition to hardware upgrades and consolidations, Dell consultants help users save on power and cooling costs by increasing data center temperatures and using hot aisle/cold aisle containment, Esser said. The consultants will use existing standards for measuring data center efficiency, like the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency (DCiE) metrics along with their own experience to optimize the data center.

Dell eats its data center dog food
Dell's notion of providing data center management advice as an official service offering sprung from Dell's own experience grappling with data center power and space issues, said Esser.

After it hit a power and space wall about 18 months ago, Dell initially planned to build a new data center in Round Rock but shifted gears and was able to pre-empt building a new facility, possibly indefinitely. "Up until then, our strategy was designed around facility effectiveness," Esser said. "We shifted our focus to a more holistic view of data center productivity and created a plan to extend the life of our existing data center indefinitely."

The two key shifts in Dell's strategy were refreshing old hardware and implementing virtualization in its production environment, with consolidation ratios of up to 40:1, Esser said. By updating old, inefficient hardware and implementing virtualization, Dell increased its compute capacity by 270% and saved "a lot of money" by not building a new data center, Esser said.

Dell has about 20,000 servers globally, more than 5,000 of which have been virtualized so far, which has saved Dell $29 million in operational costs. Dell's virtualization model calls for deploying groups of 10 to 20 physical servers at a time running VMware ESX, plus an additional server running VMware VirtualCenter for management. To date, the IT team has used this virtualization model to deploy 518 PowerEdge R900 servers running 5,100 virtual machines at Dell data centers around the world, a Dell spokesperson reported.

Dell's IT team expects to reach a total of 800 VMware ESX Server hosts and 8,000 to 9,000 virtual servers by early 2009, for a cumulative savings of more than $52 million, the spokesperson said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

Also, check out our data center blogs: Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead, and Data Center Facilities Pro


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