In Praise of Data Center Vivification

"Going Green" is about transforming the static, reactive, and largely inert data centers of today into what proponents call a "living organism."

What does it mean to go Green? Not what you might imagine.

It isn't chiefly about reducing energy consumption (and cutting energy costs), according to market watcher Gartner Inc. Instead, "going green" is about transforming the static, reactive, and largely inert data centers of today into what Gartner -- channeling sociobiologist E.O Wilson -- calls a "living organism."

"If 'greening' the data center is the goal, power efficiency is the starting point but not sufficient on its own," said Rakesh Kumar, vice president at Gartner, in a statement. "'Green' requires an end-to-end, integrated view of the data center, including the building, energy efficiency, waste management, asset management, capacity management, technology architecture, support services, energy sources and operations." In other words, Kumar argues, going Green involves a "conceptual" shift from the static status quo into a model that's patterned after a dynamic, resilient, inescapably "living" entity.

Gartner isn't just waxing philosophical. According to Kumar, "legacy" data centers -- i.e., data centers constructed during the last decade -- are "functionally obsolete." They're ill-suited to service a new class of über-dense, power-hungry gear (for example, aggressively multi-core processors and ever-denser storage arrays) that shops are deploying in greater numbers.

The upshot, according to Gartner, is that data centers could double their energy costs by 2011. Moreover, the industry watcher projects, between 2005 and 2025 -- assuming a consumption paradigm in which data center power usage doubles every five years -- energy use will increase 1,600 percent.

That's a lot of gigawatts. "Data center managers need to think differently about their data centers. Tomorrow's data center is moving from being static to becoming a living organism, where modeling and measuring tools will become one of the major elements of its management," Kumar indicates.

This places a premium on both resiliency and availability, he asserts. "It will be dynamic and address a variety of technical, financial, and environmental demands, and modular to respond quickly to demands for floor space. In addition, it will need to have some degree of flexibility, to run workloads where energy is cheapest and above all be highly-available, with 99.999 percent availability."

Kumar and Gartner suggest a six-stage approach to data center vivification, starting first and foremost with a "strategic facility strategy." Simply put, Kumar indicates, high-bay, warehouse-like buildings are the best overall option, as they support more efficient rack layouts and are highly conducive to airflow.

Second, shops should develop their sites on a modular basis. Data center vivification isn't a drop-in proposition: if flexibility, resiliency, and dynamism are key, organizations should be able to augment -- i.e., "grow" -- them on an incremental basis.

Gartner's third prescription calls for a liberal sprinkling of chillers and high-ventilation air conditioning units (HVACs). Organizations should try to build chilled fluid plumbing into all of their facilities at the outset of a data center construction effort.

Kumar and Gartner counsel, shops should make some effort to introduce recycling or alternative energy usage capabilities.

Elsewhere, Gartner calls for the aggressive use of monitoring tools. Improved monitoring will make it easier for organizations to effect another of Gartner's technology proposals: the transition to not-quite-always-on data centers that can be powered down during times of reduced demand.

"In this way, data centers will become more energy efficient, be better for the environment, and use emerging green IT products and processes. In essence, this living organism data center will be the green data center," Kumar concludes.