Six Ways to a More Efficient Data Center

The manager of a high-end data center offers lessons learned from past upgrades.

Until recently, many organizations didn't have to think about their data center infrastructure more than once a decade. As long as there was enough space to house the new server rack, cooling and power needs would work themselves out. But those times are quickly passing as the demand for computing power increases and puts a strain on electricity supplies.

According to market research firm IDC (a sister company to's publisher), computer support infrastructure needed to house and run servers is second only to system price among the concerns of data center managers. Steve Conway, a research vice president for high-performance computing at IDC, says, "These issues were at the number-12 position just three to four years ago, which means they were a non-issue."


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This change in priority reflects shifts in technology and a sharp growth in demand for processing power. Virtualization and multicore processors are allowing us to put dramatically more power in a smaller footprint. And the increasing degree to which businesses of all types rely upon connected computing for core business processes has driven enterprises to push ever more racks of computers into their existing data centers. Meanwhile, Gartner predicts that by next year, half the world's data centers will not have the infrastructure needed to meet the power and cooling requirements of the latest high-density equipment.

These changes bring to managers of mainstream data centers issues that managers like myself in high-end scientific and technical supercomputing centers have been dealing with for decades: how to properly site infrastructure support equipment, optimize cooling for high server rack densities, balance data center efficiency against business needs and track all the little details that can make or break an implementation.

The data center in which I work, a Department of Defense supercomputing center located at the Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), is in the middle of a two-year effort to totally overhaul its data center support infrastructure. Designing a new data center or retrofitting an old one is a complex process, but the six ideas below—road tested by our experiences during the past decade and informed by ERDC's ongoing infrastructure modernization—will get you started in the right direction.

1. Decide whether you really need your own data center.

Growing your computing infrastructure is a challenging, expensive process. Before you commit to your next upgrade, ask yourself, "Do I even need my own data center?"

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