Top 10 new data centre considerations

So, you want to build a new data centre?

1) Prepare to Defend Yourselves! IDC has been tracking shipments and pricing of servers and storage for decades now. When aligned with the acquisition cost of the server infrastructure is compared and contrasted to the cost of administering and maintaining those servers, IDC research shows that since 1998, services costs have gone up 8 fold compared to the cost of the server. Likewise, power and cooling costs now sit at a ratio of $0.50 for every dollar spent on a server, and with expected price hikes of 60-70 per cent, this ratio is expected to blow out in NSW.

2) Hot enough for you? Free air cooling: There is a lot of buzz around free air cooling in data centres however it is a challenge to successfully implement it in the hotter parts of Australia. The good news is that the extra capital cost for installing free air cooling systems in a new data centre is not exorbitant and in many cases will pay for itself many times over. Additionally, server and storage equipment within the data centre has ever increasing heat tolerances that place less demand on cooling systems than before. As this trend progresses we will see data centre temps increasing which will extend the operating envelope for free air cooling.

3) Involve the CFO: The role of the CFO has been pushed to the fore since the global economic crisis. Irrespective of fiscal calamities, an investment on the scale of an enterprise data centre will extend to the CEO and beyond. CFO’s typically have a longer tenure within companies than the CIO and CEO meaning they have a vested interest in planning for the longer term. Data centres have a long life cycle and it is important to construct them for not only the current IT needs of your company, but the needs your company will have in years to come.

4) Construction Costs: It is estimated that building an enterprise-class data centre can cost in excess of $10,000 per square metre. For the average enterprise data centre, this means an investment of $25 million to $50 million. This type of investment decision does not depend just on the IT manager. It is a board-level decision. Construction costs differ dramatically by state. In one state (such as Tasmania), raw materials may cost more because of transportation costs involved in getting the materials to the job site. Skilled labour may cost more in Sydney and Melbourne as the cost of living is higher there, demanding higher hourly rates.

5) How Many is Enough? One thing is pretty certain in rebuilding or moving a data centre. Over time, building costs will go up, tax rates will go up, and worker salaries will increase. Firms are looking at how many data centres they actually need. With virtualisation and server consolidation, many firms are reducing the number of data centres and building new state-of-the-art and highly efficient data centres. Compounding this are reports like Gershon which recommend the reduction and de-duplication of physical facilities.

6) Modularity is the Future: There has been a lot of debate on the best practice for building a new data centre. If you speak to a vendor, the answer you get on construction techniques conveniently matches their product catalogues. The fact is that building large monolithic data centres is a relic of the past. Lacking the ability to ratchet up with growing demand means that the monolithic approach to construction is operationally inefficient and expensive to run. Coupled to this is the high capital cost to construct a large monolithic style facility. Modularity in construction technique is less capital intensive and provides more granularity for running a leaner operational budget.

7) Cost of Living: Building the structure of a data centre is just part of the puzzle in operating the computer centre. It requires recruitment of a talented staff and the ability to retain them for a period of time. Salaries are a major element in attracting staff but even if the salary is high relative to other parts of the country for the same position, one’s dollar does not go as far if the cost of living in that area is high.

8) Population and Median Income: In relocating or building a data centre of any significant size, a balance needs to be maintained between having a large enough population to draw against for the employment pool and the amount that is paid in salary and benefits. Related to this is how far a potential employee is willing to travel to get to the job site. Other issues to consider include the transportation network near the data centre: is public transportation available or is everyone going to have to drive?

9) It’s Not Easy Being Green: A lot of what I read about green IT ties the topic closely to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by driving efficiency into power and cooling systems. This is a very important topic, particularly when coupled to the high cost of electricity however it does not tell the whole story. Where you source your electricity from is critical to minimising your carbon footprint and unfortunately Australia has a very dirty power industry, especially when compared to our friends across the ditch in New Zealand. Access to renewable energy sources is vital if you are going to be serious about being green.

10)Good to the last Drop: Data centres are also large users of water, and in our arid continent minimising the usage of excess water is essential for any forward looking facilities manager. Data centres can be built to utilise grey water which is considered far more environmentally friendly because it reduces demands for fresh water and doesn’t consume the energy required to purify it at waste water treatment plants.

Matthew Oostveen

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