Data Center Efficiency – We’re Done Here!

27 Jun

were done hereIn 2002, vmware server virtualization began making inroads in the data center helping customers reduce the number of physical servers they deployed. During the same time period as the introduction of vmware, there began to be little one off efforts to improve the efficiency of data centers, but there wasn’t a group or common metric involved.  Then in 2006, The Green Grid (TGG) was formed and shortly thereafter, they released the new data center metric called PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness). Subsequently TGG released other useful metrics like WUE and CUE, along with the Data Center Maturity Model.  The EU created the Data Center Code of Conduct and ASHRAE began loosening the standard for humidity and temperature ranges in the data center. There has also been a boom in the use of outside air which had a direct impact on reducing the energy use of one of the biggest users (HVAC).  All of the above and many more data center facility innovations occurred between 2002 and 2012. So certainly now that it’s 2014, 12 years after vmware server was introduced it must be time to claim “We’re Done Here!”?

We’re NOT Done, Not Even Close

In an article published by DRT on July 15, 2013, they discussed the results of a PUE survey of over 300 data centers. The survey results indicated an average PUE of 2.9. Yet in 2011 the average PUE reported by Uptime was 1.89. In another Uptime related survey, there is indication that our efforts at reducing PUE were hitting diminishing returns and may even be headed back up.  Either way, the average PUE should be down to 1.5 or lower by now and continuing to drop but they aren’t.



Image from Enterprise Tech Data Center Edition


Regardless of which set of data you believe, the sad fact is that as an industry, we’ve made very little real progress over the last 12 years. Sure there is a lot of positive noise from a few players (SUPERNAP 1.18) like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, HP, and several other Fortune 100 companies. What’s missing is real progress in the other 90% of our data centers and engineering labs (AKA Data Centers).

Without Improvement we will get Regulated or Embarrassed into Change

We can’t hide forever. Greenpeace has already targeted the big guys, so it likely won’t be long before they realize the potential that’s still locked in the other 95% of data center capacity around the world.  If it’s not pressure from Greenpeace, then it will likely be pressure from your government. In the UK they are already facing this issue of carbon emission taxation on Data Centers, how long before our countries follow suit.

The point is simple; running a data center effectively and efficiently takes dedication, persistence, a cross functional organization, and a specific set of skills and vision.

To the above point, most companies (90%+) don’t run their data centers effectively or efficiently.  It’s not like there aren’t great tools, training, and resources—quite the contrary. We have tools available today that I could have only dreamed of in 2002. We have Building Management Systems (BMS), Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) solutions, and power readings at the PDU. There are wired and wireless sensors for everything from sever location to outside air quality and everything in between. We have the use of outside air, and we can raise chilled water temperatures along with 100 other options that are all easily available to us on the internet, at conferences or via great organizations like TGG, Data Center Pulse, Open Data Center, Open Compute, and ASHRAE.  So, why? Why are we still running our data centers like 17 year olds with their first car?

In order to bring some outside opinion into this topic, I asked a simple question of the Twitterverse:

“Have we made the progress on Data Center Efficiency that we should have over the last 12 yrs?”

Here are a few of the responses:






Why aren’t we doing a better job?

It’s not the fault of any one role or person in a company as much as it’s a generalized problem of assumptions around the meaning of “data center ownership.”  The single biggest inhibitor to greater success in the data center space is the lack of strong organizational support.  In the vast majority of companies the data center manager is a “space” manager, not the owner of a critical function and resource. A “space” manager worries about whether the DC room access is secure, whether there’s enough power to the new racks, and whether or not there are hot spots. All of these “space” management functions are necessary, but they should be functions of a larger responsibility of “ownership.”  We have to face the facts. Whether we’re tree huggers and care about the future or not, if we don’t address the gapping ozone hole that most data centers are, someone else eventually will.

Without the role of Data Center Owner, we’re unlikely to ever make real headway in the majority of data centers anytime soon. The issue is one of focus, risk, and reward.  The current “Data Center Manager” isn’t, s/he’s more of a “Room Custodian” with a different set of skills. Until the data center is viewed and owned as a system (see Data Center Stack) we will continue to focus on point solutions to specific technical and resource issues instead of looking at the larger picture.  There needs to be a single throat to choke in the organization. Consider the situation where a company needs to build a new 100 million dollar manufacturing plant. Is there any doubt the head of manufacturing would be the sole throat to choke? If the CFO or another Exec wanted information on the performance of that expensive facility do you think they’d call four or five different people? The simple answer is no, they wouldn’t, yet that’s exactly what we do with our data center resources today.

A Challenge

I challenge all data center operators to insist on an organizational design that supports the combination of roles and functions needed for successful data center operations and management. Yes, this means the proverbial Facilities vs. IT battle must be fought, and it means that there will be training required for the individual who’s role would be elevated to “Data Center Owner.” The Data Center Owner would be responsible for all aspects of the data center from real estate to generator selection, to the impact of changing technologies, carbon emissions, and long term planning. This is no small job and for most of us who have had a similar role, it’s one that is learned through osmosis over the course of your career. There isn’t a “data center owner” class you can take.

I also challenge all data center operators to hold their partners to a higher standard of reporting, efficiency and sustainability. While managing a partner is much easier than building and operating your own facilities, it doesn’t change the fact that you still have to take responsibility for security, availability, and efficiency of your IT environments.

A Positive Industry Trend

More and more CEOs and CIOs are seeing that owning data centers is often more of an albatross than an advantage.  I see this as positive because I believe it’s more likely that a service provider will be running a more efficient data center.  Does that mean that there isn’t a need for any internal data centers, maybe, but it will often depend on the services or products the company offers.  What’s more important is how getting rid of the data center headache might be an opportunity to position your company more effectively for the future.  There are so many questions that have no good answers right now; how much public vs. private cloud will I be using? What will globalization of my business mean to data center requirements? How will increased regulations and reporting affect my data center capacity? Will modern equipment actually work in my legacy data center? I could go on and on with these questions, but the point is clear. There isn’t a crystal ball telling you what to build, how to build, and where to build; and guessing with your companies hard earned CapEx and corporate reputation seems like a bad strategy.

Yes, I’m Biased

There’s no way I can deny the fact that I’m biased. However, for those of you who know my work with organizations like TGG and Data Center Pulse, you know that I’ve been pushing for industry improvements for years while also making improvements in the environments I was responsible for. I will also say that I jumped from “internal IT” to the vendor side because I didn’t see the commitment to data center excellence that I see where I am today.  Lastly, you don’t have to take my word for it, you’re likely living this problem today, and if you aren’t you only have to ask a few peers and they will corroborate what I’m saying.

It’s Time

It’s time to do the right thing for your company by building a true data center ownership organization. It’s time to consider leveraging the appropriate partners to help you improve while also better positioning your company for success in the modern world of agile IT.

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Professionally Copy Edited by Kestine Thiele (@imkestinamarie)

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  1. Roger Kobeska

    June 29, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Excellent read. It’s time indeed for some massive changes in the custodial role of the DCM and where they belong on the chart. You’re absolutely correct in the manner in which we abuse resources and impact the footprint of a corp as a whole. I was recently interviewed at one of those fortune 1000 companies and astounded when my questioning revealed a 72-74 acceptable temp range. When asked on PUE they had no idea what they were consuming.

    The worm will turn, by outside force if need be.

    • Mark Thiele

      June 29, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Hi Roger, Thanks for the great comment. I think the worm will turn as well, I just hope it doesn’t wait to turn until this bird already has it’s tail.