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Data center build-out guru Mike Manos: Five data center game changers

Data center game changer Mike Manos reflects on containerized data centers and pending carbon regulation and taxation for IT shops.

Mike Manos, vice president of service operations at Nokia, has had a major impact on the data center industry. As general manager of data center services at Microsoft, Manos oversaw Redmond's infrastructure ramp-up to compete with Google and pushed adoption of containerized data centers by using them in high-profile facilities. He is also a fixture on the data center conference circuit, warning IT organizations about coming carbon regulation for data centers.

Now, Manos runs service infrastructure for cell phone provider Nokia. The cell phone is the primary way 80% of the world's population accesses the Internet, and his new job involves ramping up that infrastructure. In this Q&A, Manos talks about the evolution of the data center container and carbon regulation. This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with five data center professionals changing the shape of the industry.

You have been a big proponent of the containerized data center design. What are your thoughts on the technology a couple years out?
Mike Manos:
I'm happy with where it's come, and it's a lot more successful than I thought it would be. One could argue that containerization has been around for a long time as a strategy, but taking adoption to the level we did [at Microsoft] has had a significant impact on the industry. [Microsoft's containerized data center] was controversial when we announced it, but today vendors have a lot of containerized approaches on the market.

The container movement forced people to think differently than they had in the past 30 years. As people become more adventurous, they can start to think about other technologies that come into play with containerization, like air-side economizers.

American Power Conversion exec and founder Neil Rasmussen recently said that containerized backup power and cooling infrastructure will be even more successful than the IT-in-a-box model. What do you think of that product category?
The market is bigger for the componentized backup power and cooling containers because most companies are dealing with legacy environments and they don't have the capital to go build a new data center. It's a quick, easy win with a limited amount of capital budget. As long as you have spare power and some water capacity, you can use these to help retrofit a legacy facility.

The big complaint I've heard from skeptics is that most IT shops don't buy 100 servers at a time. What does the future hold for smaller sized pods?
The vendors I talk to are already coming to me with smaller footprints than the standard shipping container. It used to be the 40-foot shipping container, then it was the 20-foot container. But as you get smaller, the challenge becomes the mechanical electrical components. How much room do you have for the IT space if you're going to colocate those together? Increasingly, companies say they're looking at containerized options in the 100 kW or less range.

You've been warning the data center industry about coming climate change regulation for years. What do you think is the pending concern for people?
One of President Obama's central planks is Carbon Cap and Trade mechanisms around energy. That will impact the data center industry. Whether the model is copied from the Carbon Reduction Commitment in the U.K. or Waxman-Markey House Bill 2454, they're targeting users in that bill.

Carbon legislation will impact data centers in two ways: At a minimum, you're power rates are going to go up. These utilities are going to have to invest in infrastructure to create a green power generation mix in the U.S. You're going to deal with that one way or the other.

From a regulatory perspective on the user side, carbon reporting is already built into Waxman-Markey Bill. You're responsible as a company to do self-measuring, self-reporting. Most of that legislation is targeting 2012-2013. Most companies are woefully unprepared to be able to report and collect this data.

There are organizational challenges -- IT and facilities have to deal with this together, and that's not happening today. The tools aren't in place across most companies, and facilities professionals who are probably closest to understanding what that consumption looks like have no formal training on how to think strategically about these challenges.

I call it CO2K. In Y2K, people talked about it for years ahead of time and made major investments in audits and investigating exposure. When you look at the timeline for the legislation coming through, it's a year or two away from the U.S. and it's already in Europe. There is no significant attention being brought to this. So when these measures pass, there will be a huge reactionary force put to bear. With a little foresight and technology application, we can address this proactively instead of reactively.

Many vendors offer data center and carbon monitoring and reporting tools. Should IT managers be looking into this now?
There are a lot of players out there, and it will be interesting to see who emerges as the dominant company. You have folks approaching this from the facilities side of the house, you have people pushing from the IT side of the house. You also have new players like building management companies. Finding the right vendor to bet on will depend on what technologies you have within your facility. Which hardware platforms, which agents do you have, what infrastructure do you have deployed to collect this information?

No data center is 100% homogenous, so you have to think about open standards for how these tools will communicate. There are some open standards at the facilities level, a common building infrastructure protocol, but as you blend into IT, that equipment doesn't speak the same language.

The EPA publishes a current emissions factor for every region across the U.S. and takes into account how much of the utility mix is green or renewable versus high-sulfuric coal, and they assess a number.

At a high level, that's all you really need. When you're talking about just reporting carbon, you take that factor for where your data center is located, and take your consumption, and that's not rocket science.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Matt Stansberry, Executive Editor.

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