Electricity a Concern in Large Data Centers

SAN MATEO (03/27/2000) - As data centers begin to spring up around the country in anticipation of growth in outsourcing, the availability of electrical power to the new centers is raising some concern.

Businesses typically do not need to consider electricity in IT buying decisions, but experts in the utility industry agree on the importance of site location for delivering reliable power to data centers.

Garry Bye, CEO of East Central Energy, a distribution cooperative in Braham, Minn., said if a 10-megawatt center was located in his region, the company would find a way to deliver power. He did note, however, that proximity to a major transmission and generation facility is a key to dependable power.

"In different parts of the country it would be difficult to do it," Bye said.

An executive at Northwest Iowa Power Consortium is even more outspoken in assessing the country's electrical grid.

"The grid is maxed out right now," said Stephen Brevig, CEO at Northwest Iowa.

Brevig also said that data centers would not want to locate in areas with "bottlenecks" that restrict transmission.

Moreover, some industry observers contend that impending industry deregulation has made utilities, which may break up into separate businesses, hold back on upgrading the grid's capacity. "There is not a lot of incentive to expand their grid," Brevig said.

As a result, issues surrounding the physical location of data centers are beginning to appear on the radar screen of both hosts and customers.

Intel, for example, plans to build 10 new data centers worldwide this year alone.

"When a data center is fully up and running, it uses a lot of power and generates a lot of network traffic," says Rob Karmele, marketing director at Intel Online Services, in Santa Clara, Calif. "There are a lot of issues with respect to power and network, so some sophistication is needed."

Interacct, an ASP (application service provider) providing Web-based accounting services for midrange companies, made location a primary consideration when choosing a data center.

"We spent months researching this. We settled for a lot of reasons for having something close at least initially," said David Thomas, CEO at Interacct in Los Gatos, Calif. Interacct only allows its own people into its "vault" room.

Avoiding any single point of failure for whatever reason appears to be the key for most companies.

"You should never be in the case where your entire network has a single point of failure," said Lu M. Crdova, at Acteva in San Francisco. "You want a distributed network and redundancy."

Despite the irrelevance of geography in many outsourcing cases, the customers are demanding proximity.

"It provides a comfort level for the customers. It actually doesn't matter, but psychologically it is more comforting to have the data in your region and that [way], the support staff would be more sensitive to local needs," said Amy Mizoras, an analyst at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.

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