Maximizing Efficiency in Data Centers: Innovative Strategies for the Modern Era
What Is a Data Center?
A data center is a large, secure facility that houses and connects core computing equipment such as servers. Data centers also host networking hardware that enables communications with other servers and the outside world.
In addition, a data center must be easily accessible for delivery and service vehicles. A data center should have a large capacity to support growth.
Data Center Basics: Key Infrastructure
With rows of servers, cooling towers and an absurd amount of network cables, a data center can look like a sci-fi movie. However, it is the backbone of today’s digital infrastructure.
The most important components of a data center are power, networking equipment and security systems. Power is critical, as even a fraction of a second of downtime can have significant consequences.
Networking hardware like routers, switches and firewalls connect all the various data center devices. Security is essential, too, to keep unauthorized users out of the facility. This includes physical security systems, such as key card entry and passcode systems, along with cybersecurity strategies, such as activity logging, intrusion detection/prevention and configuration management tools.
Another critical component is a smart control system that can optimize cooling, climate control and more automatically to maximize performance. These are called Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) systems and can be integrated with artificial intelligence to monitor power distribution, cool airflow, server workload and cyber threats in real-time and make efficiency adjustments automatically. This increases uptime while reducing cost, and minimizes the risk of human error.
Past & Future of Data Centers
As the digital age continued to evolve, companies shifted from owning and maintaining their own data centers to leasing space in shared facilities. This ‘everything-as-a-service’ model allows businesses to scale up or down depending on their needs. It also reduces waste by automatically allocating resources.
In the 1970s, computing took several leaps forward: Intel began selling microprocessors and Xerox introduced the Alto, a minicomputer with a graphical interface that paved the way for PCs to dominate. As a result, interest in mainframes waned and colocation facilities emerged.
The best colocation sites are typically near Internet Exchanges, with Ashburn, Virginia being one such hub that became known as “Data Center Alley.” These facilities often feature raised floors to minimize the need for cabling underneath them. They may also deploy cooling systems like ice water immersion or air conditioning and use anti-static flooring.
These data centers are usually protected with fire detection systems and have emergency power backups in case of a failure. They may also include network security elements, including firewalls and VPN gateways, and monitoring systems for the data center and applications.
Energy-Smart Data Center Practices
Many businesses are seeking to make their operations more sustainable, and data centers are an excellent place to begin. Considering the large amount of energy they use, as well as their contribution to carbon emissions and climate change, they can have a big impact if companies are proactive in their approach.
This means taking steps to increase energy efficiency, including tracking PUE statistics and deploying energy-efficient hardware. It also means embracing cooling systems that allow for natural temperature variations, and using renewable nonpolluting power sources.
Finally, it means incorporating backup power options, which can help guard against utility power interruptions and disasters. Some of these backup options include diesel-powered generators or UPS batteries.
Cutting-Edge Data Center Tech
The digital world demands fast and reliable connectivity. The latest technologies in data center infrastructure can help. Streaming media, multi-player online gaming, machine-to-machine communication, virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), high-performance compute (HPC) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are generating massive amounts of data, and these applications are often latency-sensitive.
Local edge data centers bring dynamic content and cloud services physically closer to end-market consumers, decreasing latency and boosting performance. These network-neutral facilities typically host fiber-dense, carrier-rich interconnection environments.
Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions can optimize the performance of a data center and reduce energy usage. These systems can also detect potential issues before they occur and provide a centralized platform for monitoring, reporting and managing.
Data Center Security Strategies
Data centers hold massive amounts of sensitive information (personal information, financial records, intellectual property and various business files), so maintaining high levels of security is crucial. They need to be protected from both physical and digital dangers.
The first layer of a data center’s defense is its physical protection. It’s important to have traditional CCTV cameras, security guards and the like at every entrance to monitor people coming in and out of the facility. Additionally, it’s a good idea to have security measures that can limit access to certain rooms and devices by using badges, pin pads or other methods of authentication.
The next layer of a data center’s security is its cyber protection. It’s a good idea to use a firewall with a strong policy that blocks all high-risk applications and limits access from untrusted sources. It’s also helpful to have a reverse proxy, which reduces the attack surface by mapping application traffic to users and servers. It’s essential to keep all security policies up-to-date to keep pace with new threats.
Budgeting in Data Centers
Cost management is a major component of data center budgeting. Data centers have numerous components that require attention and monitoring, including facility costs, server technology, networking and bandwidth fees, technical staffing, energy costs, and more. Sizing hardware for ultimate utilization is key to minimizing investment. Likewise, power usage must be carefully managed to prevent wasting infrastructure dollars through under-utilized servers.
The average yearly cost to run extensive large data centers ranges between $10 million and $25 million, with the largest portion of this going toward ongoing application and infrastructure maintenance. Another significant chunk is spent on heating and computer room air conditioning, property taxes, and labor expenses.
A qualified cost manager can help minimize these expenses and ensure projects remain on track to completion and within budget. They can identify risks, develop contingency plans, and offer other creative solutions to save on project costs. Enterprises should also reexamine the amount of data they keep, why they keep it, and how long they keep it. Purging this unneeded data is one way to reduce storage and data center energy costs.
Data Center Network Optimization
Data center network optimization involves updating key data center networking architectures for more processing efficiency, greater connectivity and enhanced scalability. It can also improve energy-efficiency, reduce operational expenses and maximize the lifespan of equipment.
Server consolidation, for example, minimizes unused servers and saves money on power costs. It can also make it easier for facility owners to meet the changing technology needs of their customers. Smart power management systems, which regulate power flow dynamically based on usage changes, can help decrease the risk of unexpected outages.
Load balancing also optimizes ethernet use in data centers by evenly spreading traffic among multiple servers and networks paths, improving performance and eliminating single points of failure. It’s also important to ensure that all data centers have diverse and redundant connections to avoid outages due to network congestion or failure.
Other essential factors to consider include emergency operating procedures that show workers how to respond in the event of an unplanned interruption and implementing airflow strategies to maintain optimal temperature and humidity levels in data centers. These tactics can also help lower energy bills by reducing cooling requirements.
Future Trends in Data Centers
Keeping up with trends in data center technology is a must for business owners. As demand continues to rise for services like streaming and videoconferencing, a focus on efficiency will be key to meeting data storage needs without increasing costs. This will likely result in a greater reliance on automated processes to improve the speed of data processing and reduce rates of human error.
Continuing environmental concerns also require that future facilities focus on energy and water usage. While the industry has achieved major reductions in electricity consumption through innovation and discipline, water usage still remains an issue. With drought and water scarcity affecting many regions, the focus on efficiency will extend to water usage.
Another trend to watch is the movement toward edge data centers. Many new digital services are latency-sensitive or need to be stored in specific countries for data governance requirements, so they require a higher level of computing capacity closer to users. This is driving data centers in smaller markets, including Boise and other cities not typically considered technology hubs.