StorageTek see the return of the data centre

The data centre is making a comeback according to a small vendor survey of medium-sized and large businesses, a new survey claims.

An increasing number of organisations are seeing the benefit of relocating critical IT infrastructure into a centralised and specialist resource rather than having servers distributed around their workgroups, says the StorageTek survey.

The survey, a prelude to a breakfast briefing held in New Zealand on the topic last week, found more than 25% of businesses were “planning” and a further 46% “considering” relocation or consolidation of IT equipment into a data centre. Such a move makes sense in view of the increased criticality of IT services to the continuity of a business, says David Cowell (pictured), StorageTek’s Australian-based principal consultant for data centre services.

Redundancy of power supply and air-conditioning, physical security and the availability of a relatively small on-site team to handle crucial tasks of backup and recovery all argue for a return to centralisation.

Alongside the 77% of survey respondents who identified “better operational control” as a reason for centralising IT, an equal number, however, saw lower costs from the exercise. Floor-space savings and location of the IT resource away from the business premises to lessen risk were also prominent reasons.

Data centre organisation also allows for application consolidation — putting all the document application on the same servers and the financials on another, for example, so a failure in one doesn’t bring down the other.

Data, particularly mission-critical data, is already migrating to the centre. More than 70% of respondents said “around 80%” of their data resides in a data centre.

Only 17 businesses replied to the survey, regional marketing manager Joan Tunstall acknowledges, but an Australian survey of 138 companies came up with “very similar figures”, she says.

Relocation also gives an opportunity to tidy up aspects of a networked operation which have been allowed to become messy, Cowell says. He showed some disturbing, but not atypical pictures of tangled webs of cabling that would make it very difficult to execute the assumed quick slide of a server out of a rack and quick replacement when a component fails.

Centralisation enables a properly redundant environment to be built for storing crucial data and applications, he says. He recommends dual power distribution boards to handle dual power supplies to dual “captive” 32-amp sockets (plugs that cleaning staff and the like cannot accidentally knock out). UPSs should be duplicated as well, and the ideal situation would be to have two different power suppliers.

“We’ll be all right, we’ve got a generator” is a frequent dismissive response, forgetting about when its operation was last tested. If you want your manager to cough up more money for secure supply, Cowell suggests, “a good idea would be to have him/her there when you press that [generator cutover] button and see what happens.”

Typical building air-conditioning may be inadequate for the increased heat output of compact technology such as blade servers. A data centre should have a second local air-condenser unit to back up the water towers on the roof that condition air to the whole building.

Relocation to a data centre is a major project which should have full risk analysis, fallback positions and, of course, a detailed schedule and tight management with frequent checkpoints. Racks for servers can be set up in advance with their power supplies checked out, at the new location, ready for immediate insertion of the servers.

And don’t forget that many servers in a modern installation will have been running continuously for months. Reboot all of them and switch the power off and on again before the move, he says, so there are no nasty start-up surprises at the other end.

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