03-29-13 | Blog Post

The Next Generation Data Center: How Michigan Data Centers Fit the Bill

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Wouldn’t it be cool to have a time machine like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future” to see what technology will be in 20 and 30 years from now?  Unfortunately, that’s only possible in the movies.

In What will the next big data center transformation look like?, Stephen J. Bigelow gives us a look into the next-generation data center.  He describes the transformation in data centers will be “more science and less fiction” and will focus on refining technologies for power, cooling and facility design.

Data Center Power
With the increase of mobile computing and social networking, the demand for power will still increase even if companies are shifting towards outsourcing or cloud hosting providers.  Next-generation data centers will look to more efficient servers and power alternatives to help reduce power consumption.

  • Energy-efficient servers – Server designs are becoming more energy-efficient and able to operate at higher temperatures.  Next-generation servers will only use a fraction of their power when idle and actively power down when it is not needed.  Servers are also being “purpose-built” rather than “general-propose,” according to Pete Sclafani, CIO at 6connect. More efficient servers and virtualization will have an impact on data center cooling.  With fewer servers and the ability to sustain higher temperatures, there is less heat to remove in a data center.  Thus, reducing the amount of power needed to cool the data center.
  • Power Alternatives – The cost and availability of power is a growing concern among data center operators since power grids continue to age and the government is implementing more aggressive carbon emission standards.  Future data centers will likely supplement power or offset utility prices by contracting with alternative energy providers like wind or solar farms.

Data Center Cooling
Experts are predicting that cooling technologies will be refined and data centers will look to adopt alternative systems.

  • Mixture of cooling technologies – John Stanley, senior analyst for data center technologies at the 451 Group, says that future data center designs will have a mixture of both traditional and alternative cooling technologies. Environmental cooling alternatives can be adopted at any data center location, but to really reduce the use of mechanical refrigeration, next-generation data center sites need to be in locations that accommodate environmental cooling.  For example, Michigan data centers can benefit from the year-round cool temperatures.   With average temperature ranging from 23 degrees to 72 degrees, Michigan data centers can use free cooling the entire year and supplement with mechanical refrigeration as needed.
  • Cooling Improvements – Next-generation data centers will take advantage of alternative cooling methodologies like using variable frequency drives.  A lot of mechanical equipment operate motors at fixed speeds – on or off – but introducing variable-speed motors can save energy.  Also proper airflow, full immersion cooling or using closer coupling between the cooling medium and servers will be critical to future data centers.

Data Center Facilities

  • Smaller Data Center Facilities – Sclafani notes that large data centers like Google and Yahoo may not be appropriate for most businesses.   Instead the trend will likely be smaller data centers and “more distributed to maintain performance and move computing and storage closer to users.”
  • Environment will become more important – Site selection will always be key for data centers, but next-generation data centers will look more closely at the environmental impact.  Future data centers will feel the social pressure to use electricity from alternative sources.  Michigan data centers already have an advantage over other U.S. regions due to its cool temperatures and accessibility to alternative energy resources.

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