4  FM quick reads on data centers

1. Consider the Cloud When Expanding Data Centers


This is Casey Laughman, managing editor of Building Operating Management magazine. Today's tip is that cloud services are becoming a more common option for data center expansion.

The major advantage of expanding to the cloud is that the organization pays only for access to the services it needs to meet its business objectives, not for ownership of capital assets. The approach offers an immediate, scalable solution for a monthly or annual fee.

Although cloud services are touted as a new concept, they have actually been available for more than 50 years under different terms, including time sharing and partitioning. Today, cloud services take three major forms: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS): SaaS is the most popular form of cloud services. A service provider offers software to support the end user's business. The end user can configure the software to suit their needs, although they cannot change or modify it.

PaaS offers a platform to clients for various purposes. For example, Microsoft Windows Azure offers a platform for developers to build, test and host applications that can be accessed by the end users.

IaaS offers infrastructure on demand ranging from storage servers to applications to operating systems. For example, Microsoft Office 365 provides applications and storage space. IaaS enables an organization to save on the capital costs, space and staff it takes to set up and maintain in-house infrastructure.

While cloud computing can be an option for data center expansion, remember that the decision will hinge on business analysis. Apply core financial analysis and weigh the payback period, net present value and internal rate of return of cloud computing versus other expansion options. At the end of the day, the technology solution must support the business.


2.  Two Fundamental Ways to Increase On-Site Capacity

There are two fundamental ways to increase on-site capacity: power density or square footage. Typically, owners and managers consider expanding the physical capacity of a data center when they can no longer increase power density to support the business operations.

As a prerequisite for expansion, the organization must have the appropriate management processes, procedures and oversight in place to enable a seamless expansion of critical infrastructure while maintaining operations and protecting data throughout the project. Before the project begins, the entire process must be documented, including a rigorous quality review procedure for data center operators to execute transitions without outages.

Companies that have successfully completed an on-site expansion in the past may be able to leverage existing procedures for a new project, but they typically lack adequate internal resources to manage it. As a result, they must turn to experts when they are expanding a live data center. In addition to managing the risks to data and operations, the owner and project team must manage real safety risks to operating personnel during "hot" work.

There are several advantages to existing site expansion. The biggest is maintaining control over mission-critical assets, especially their performance and security. Existing site expansion also avoids the inefficiencies and risks of compartmentalizing applications and outsourcing services. The organization gains economies of scale by leveraging existing real estate and operational resources, including staff and management. Growing in place also avoids the costs associated with decentralizing operations.

The major business risk associated with existing site expansion is the tendency to over-project demand and overbuild the facility. There are several reasons for this. A build-out typically requires 12 to 18 months to complete. In anticipation of this lengthy build process, an organization may try to project demand three or more years into the future. However, the longer-term the business forecast, the more likely it is to be inaccurate. Even companies that are very skilled at demand management can experience spikes, for example, due to a new product with an unexpectedly high demand. So there is a tendency to overbuild "just in case" unforeseen circumstances arise.

The carpenter's mantra, "measure twice, cut once," applies to all data center expansions, but particularly when considering an on-site physical expansion. Before moving ahead with an expansion, benchmark the existing data center's baseline performance to identify stranded capacity and opportunities to improve the facility's operating efficiency. For example, some owners have gained 30 percent or more capacity by implementing cost-effective changes in the management of air flow. If an expansion is warranted, the baseline performance benchmark will be a means of assessing the effectiveness of the project.

3.  Three Options for Data Center Expansion

When an enterprise needs additional data center capacity, there are three fundamental options: existing site expansion, co-location and cloud services. Which option is best? The answer lies in understanding the balance of how critical the data center is to the business and what the fully loaded cost of supporting the application is. Few companies have good data or metrics on either. In fact, strategic decisions regarding the criticality of infrastructure are key — and these decisions are driven not by technology but by business requirements.

Data center risk assessments are often limited to operational risk, which is primarily linked to uptime. Uptime is frequently measured by the number of "nines" or the designation of a Tier level. However, hitting a targeted level of uptime is only one aspect of managing data center risk. To make prudent decisions about data center expansion, companies must understand the role performed by their data centers in the value chain of IT services.

This is why it is important to start the planning phase with an analysis of the business needs. ITIL, a business-model approach to IT services, makes the case very well: When IT services are aligned with and supportive of the core business processes, technology can be used to facilitate business change, transformation and growth.

Decision-makers can use the business case for IT expansion to identify requirements for system performance, security and reliability. In the planning phase, it is important to analyze the application requirements, in particular, the ability of the existing application architecture to operate in a decentralized environment. Planners also should consider the strategic business implications of decentralization, including the availability of resources to manage and operate multiple sites. Other critical issues include network latency; loss and recovery time of applications, data and services; tax and jurisdictional concerns; and legal and regulatory issues.

4.  Networks Face External Threats

A data center's external campus is at risk for any number of security breaches, from inclement weather to burglary to maintenance mishaps. Protecting this vulnerable area is the first step in securing the mission critical environment.

Minimum requirements for safeguarding a data center's external infrastructure assets include creating redundant pathways and physically protecting the cabling within them. Most data centers with some level of reliability have dual path redundant cabling coming in from two different sources on separate parts of the mission critical site. Designed to create network redundancy, this technique also promotes information security and reliability at the exterior of the building.

Protecting the cabling within its pathways by building a concrete structure around the underground conduit from the perimeter of the facility to the end of the data center grounds will further protect the data pathways from external vulnerabilities, including third party maintenance and future site construction.

Beyond minimum requirements, the second tier of external risk mitigation includes monitoring maintenance holes, segregating the security system from the rest of the network, and providing a trained and educated support staff for IP-based surveillance systems.

Maintenance holes throughout the property should have proper surveillance coverage, with the intent being to eliminate infiltration. While the conduit below the data center grounds will be encased in concrete, the same conduit at certain locations in the pathway will be accessible through maintenance holes. Because these locations are physically accessible from the ground level, and therefore vulnerable, 24/7 video surveillance is recommended. In addition, similar to any portal in the data center, a mechanical sensor connected to the access control system should be installed at the maintenance hole cover in order to alert a security guard when the cover is removed or compromised.


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