by Robert Lemos

New at Disney: It’s a Data Center World After All

Feb 02, 2010
Data Center

IBM's new exhibit at Disney World's Epcot Center teaches about green technologies and how data flies around our world. Front and center, IBM shows a scalable, modular data center.

Visitors to Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando can walk around the world, stopping at pavilions that aim to give them a taste of other countries. Now, Disney and IBM hope to give visitors a unique look at the information technology that delivers the modern world’s everyday necessities as well.

Last week, the two companies unveiled the latest revision of their collaboration—the Smarter Planet—an exhibit on how technology can save energy and Earth’s resources. Based on concepts espoused in IBM’s 14-month-old marketing push of the same name, Smarter Planet allows guests to explore the impact of various technologies, such as using mobile phones for banking.

Visitors at IBM’s new Smarter Planet exhibit create avatars for Runtime, a customized game experience that lets players run, jump and dance through computing history. The exhibit’s modular data center also stars.

The exhibit also takes people inside the data center—a part of the modern computing world that many people never see. Unlike the Wizard of Oz model, the servers powering the exhibit will not be behind a curtain but on full display.

Based on IBM’s scalable modular data center (SMDC) designs, the data center at the I Innoventions Pavilion at Epcot shows some of the ways that modernizing IT facilities can save companies money.

“Data centers have gotten bigger and denser and more heavily utilized,” says Merv Adrian, an analyst with IT Market Strategies. “We have steadily consumed more and more energy, and these facilities were not designed with energy efficiency top of mind.”

Modern data center designs, such as the scalable modular data center (SMDC), are far more efficient than those of a decade ago, says Jody Cefola, chief marketing officer for site and facilities group at IBM’s Global Technology Services.

“Data centers are still energy hogs,” says Cefola. “Per square foot they take up to 30 to 80 times more energy than a typical office building.”

The collection of servers and infrastructure powering the Smarter Planet exhibit, for example, has a data center infrastructure efficiency (DCiE) of 70 percent, meaning that 70 cents of IT productivity is delivered for every dollar spent on the data center, Cefola says. Most companies have efficiencies far below that. Among IBM’s clients, initial benchmarking found that corporate data centers have a DCiE of 43 percent on average.

“The worst we saw 28 percent, but we won’t say which company that was,” Cefola says.

Visitors to the exhibit can create an avatar and play a game, called Runtime, created by Disney, to allow guests to explore the history and uses of computers. The exhibition also demonstrates that, whether supporting digital personas in virtual worlds or resources in the real world, the demands on information technology are soaring, says Charles King, principal analyst with PundIT.

“We are talking an order of magnitude jump in size and complexity, if not more,” King says. “The volume of data coming in and the number of devices being managed is an increase in size and complexity that is almost inconceivable.”

Nearly three years ago, when companies, such as IBM, started introducing SMDC designs, only 11 percent of IBM’s customers were planning to use the design, according to the company. Now, with increasing energy costs and greater demand for computing power, 81 percent of its customers tell IBM that they plan to base their next data center on SMDC principles.

“We have to get a heck of a lot smarter in how we manage those demands,” Cefola says.

Improving the management of information technology is a core concept of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative as well. The data center at Disney also shows off the company’s Tivoli management software, which gives managers a single view of operations with one dashboard.

“You need to instrument the data center, because you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Cefola says. “When the power company comes into your home, they do the assessment and then they leave. But companies can’t afford to do it just once and be done.”

Yet, future data centers have to not only manage their energy consumption better, but also manage data storage more efficiently, says Charles King, principal analyst with PundIT.

“If a company is going to make an investment in IT, you have to make sure that they information that you are using, the money that you are investing, is producing information of value to your organization,” he says.

While the Smarter Planet exhibit is mainly about marketing, IT Market Strategy’s Adrian says it should not be discounted. Both the impact on IBM’s bottom line and on educating consumers and business people could help drive efficiency in information technology.

IBM hopes “to drive an accelerated replacement cycle,” Adrian says. “It is a competitive issue, because some of the other major players—most notably, HP—have also been strong on these issues.”

“One does not have to be cynical to see the Smarter Planet as a big business opportunity for IBM,” Adrian says.

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