Data centre revolution closes innovation gap

Known as the backbone of the business, the physical infrastructure used in data centres everywhere is undergoing a revolution after 30 years of little change.

While technology has undergone massive cycles of innovation since the 1960s, the data centre has remained relatively unchanged, according to APC's Asia Pacific data centre advisor David Blumanis. But that innovation gap is finally closing.

Speaking at a Computerworld breakfast briefing held in Sydney last week, Blumanis said network-critical physical infrastructure (NCPI), which covers power, cooling, racks, cabling, security and fire protection, is not at the forefront of the IT agenda, but it should be.

Blumanis said the data centre is changing radically and it is no longer just about dropped ceilings and raised floors.

One issue is heating. In the past the basic assumption was that a typical rack of servers would draw 2 kilowatts of power and give off an equivalent amount of heat. But demand today is about 10 kilowatts.

Aware of the problems associated with traditional rack systems, APC incorporates cooling into the rack.

But, as Blumanis points out, data centres are no longer limited by basic design.

For every data centre, he said there are half a dozen different design options today, all with their own risk and cost models.

Another factor driving data centre upgrades is the increasing use of blade servers, which consume more electrical power than traditional rack-mounted servers.

"I know five organizations in the last couple of weeks that have had power problems and some research is even claiming that electrical costs could outstrip hardware costs in the not-too-distant future," he said.

Increased market activity and the need for organizations to ensure there is no downtime, has seen APC employ 12 additional staff in recent months with plans to employ another 12 staff in the next six months.

Despite increased automation, Gartner vice president and Fellow, Martin Reynolds told attendees hardware costs are decreasing while IT staffing costs are increasing.

"Organizations shouldn't require an army of staff to manage IT, but whatever your budget you will always need to find funds for staffing," he said.

Only last week a survey of 179 IT managers found two contradictory trends are draining IT operations and making it harder to hire replacements: an ageing workforce and increasing automation.

That was the finding of a survey by AFCOM, an association of data centre managers.

Nearly half the survey respondents said it takes at least three months to fill senior-level technical positions.

To address the implications of such trends, data centre executives need to train and promote workers to senior positions so that "when you go to hire, you are not trying to hire the highest-level positions", said Leonard Eckhaus, founder of AFCOM.

The association estimates that the pool of available senior-level data centre workers will decline by 45 percent by 2015.

"It's already more difficult than ever to fill open positions in the data centre," Eckhaus said, adding that, as automation cuts data centre staff, people are hesitant to enter the IT field.

And at the same time the workforce is shrinking, more and more IT workers are approaching retirement age.

(With Patrick Thibodeau.)

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