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BLOG: The data centre renaissance

Andrew Milroy | March 6, 2012
Once viewed as soulless grey rooms, data centres are now seen as the foundation of the hottest topic on everyone’s lips – cloud computing.

Normally, when the topic of data centres is raised, people start to fall asleep. In the IT world, it has never been viewed as an exciting topic or an exciting market. In fact, this may be the first time that the words 'data centre' and 'exciting' have been used in the same sentence. Many of us associate data centres with soulless grey rooms located in soulless grey industrial estates in the least interesting parts of our towns and cities.

However, this perception is changing as it becomes clear that data centres are the foundation of cloud computing.  Cloud computing is, of course, the most popular IT-related topic, and one of the fastest growing IT markets. The benefits of cloud computing can be clearly explained in non technical language as it has become a strategic issue for businesses, not just an IT-specific issue. Business leaders are now interested in using cloud computing in innovative new ways such as bringing new products and services to market rapidly, mitigating risk and managing peaks and troughs in demand.

In the same way, the role and importance of data centres is increasingly being explained in non-technical language to a non technical audience. Business leaders are also focused on using data centres to enable cloud computing.

Why is this? Well, legacy IT architectures and legacy data centres act as a bottleneck to the development and proliferation of cloud services.  Well designed data centres can enable the optimal delivery of IT resources on demand. In order to meet these new demands, we are witnessing a data centre renaissance. Massive focus is being placed on the design and future proofing of data centres as the demands from cloud computing escalate.

When designing a new data centre or re-designing an older one, it is critical that several characteristics are considered. The five that must be evaluated are:

#1 Power is now a bigger issue than space in the data centre world. Densely packed blade servers consume much higher amounts of power per rack than was the case with earlier data centre designs. But, less space is required for the same amount of data centre capability. New data centres should have the ability to offer 20kW-30kW per rack.

#2 Architecture is critical. The data centre architecture needs to be simplified or 'flattened'. In many cases, traffic continues to flow through different tiers, which adds to latency with each hop, thereby affecting the performance of real-time applications. In recent years, there has been a significant improvement in the performance of switches, which enables a shift to two-tier architecture by eliminating the aggregation layer. Furthermore, the elimination of a tier reduces the number of switches and cables required in a data centre network, leading to lower costs, both operational and capital.


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