Datacenter outsourcing yields green opportunities

Datacenter space is in high demand these days, and like energy prices, that demand appears to be headed nowhere but up. In fact, Digital Realty Trust, a San Francisco-based REIT, estimates that demand for datacenter space will continue to rise by as much as 15% annually over the next five years. While that's bad news for companies struggling to maintain sufficient infrastructure to keep up with seemingly insatia

Datacenter space is in high demand these days, and like energy prices, that demand appears to be headed nowhere but up. In fact, Digital Realty Trust, a San Francisco-based REIT, estimates that demand for datacenter space will continue to rise by as much as 15% annually over the next five years.

While that's bad news for companies struggling to maintain sufficient infrastructure to keep up with seemingly insatiable demands for computing power and storage, it's been quite a boon for companies that offer datacenter hosting services. According to Tier1 Research, that industry enjoyed 35% growth last year, raking in $15 billion in annual revenue.

Indeed, more companies -- including larger, publicly traded corporations -- are turning to third-parties for collocation and hosting services, and the appeal is evident: Beyond the recognized traditional benefits of outsourcing, it gives companies a means of keeping up with growth, without having to invest time and money in new or upgraded facilities. But having had an interesting conversation with Bob Stephens, senior director of data center operations at NaviSite -- which manages 125,000 square feet of hosted data center space across 14 facilities worldwide -- I believe that outsourced model can provide companies with a potentially greener way to do business, in part thanks to the magic of economies of scale.

"I can deliver these services more efficiently than you can do them in-house," Stephens says. "We're adding value for our customers, both in terms of being environmentally friendly as well as from a business standpoint," he said.

As datacenters have grown hotter thanks to technology such as high-density blades, air-conditioning costs have gone up. And many a datacenter lack efficient cooling, because when they were designed, architects weren't thinking about racks running at 30kw.

It might be difficult for the average datacenter manager to justify the ROI on building a state-of-the-art, highly efficient HVAC system. However, a company like NaviSite is able to cut waste, and save money, through its advanced cooling system, according to Stephens. "We're talking about picking up 15 and 20% efficiency in the amount of power it takes to cool the data center," he said.

One of NaviSite's tricks is a proprietary monitoring system that, according to Stephens, works on a very granular level. Temperature probes monitor and manage the air that goes into and flows of out of server. Through sophisticated algorithms, the system adjusts the varying speed of the fans to optimal levels.

Not all of NaviSite's techniques are necessarily cutting-edge, though. The practice of employing raised floors with vented tiles to directly flow cool air into the hardware as been around for a while now, but it's still effective: The approach means the chilled air need only be around 72 degrees instead of 55. "You can see small incremental percentages can make a big difference scaled over large quantities," he said.

To further reduce those pesky heating costs, Stephens is also investigating ice storage cooling systems, provided by companies such as Calmac and Cyrogel. These systems essentially use power at night, when it's less expensive, to create large quantities of ice, then store it in non-corrodible tanks. The frozen H20 is used the next day to cool the building.

Like other companies, such as Ecos Consulting, NaviSite is also increasing energy efficiency through the usage of DC power, which he says results in another 15% reduction in power usage.

NaviSite also is investigating replacing its traditional battery UPS systems with flywheels, which works by rotating a rotor to a very high speed to store up energy, which can be transformed into electricity. The benefit is, you can save money in the long run by not having to replace thousands of batteries every two or three years.

A flywheel UPS, from companies such as Pentadyne and Liebert, may not deliver the 20 to 30 minutes of backup power that a battery UPS can during a power outage, a fact that might give some customers pause. But, he argues, "You don't need to buy hundred of thousands of dollars worth of batteries."

While there are benefits to be had through the hosted data-center model, any sort of outsourcing relationship needs to be approached with care. In a recent report titled "Data Center Power and Cooling Scenario: Options for the Road Ahead," Gartner stresses that simply going with an outsourcer to address power and cooling concerns isn't a prudent move. Rather, an "organization must go through the process of benchmarking its delivery quality and cost of service provision and make the necessary optimization changes before handing over to a third party."

That includes doing your due diligence in researching your would-be partners; exercising great restraint in putting your most business-critical IT services and data in the hands of a third party; ensuring the provider meets all your security, bandwidth, and support needs; and devising an air-tight SLA.

Also bear in mind that as demand for these types of services grow, hosting providers have been raising their rates accordingly, Data Center Knowledge reports.

Still, I do like the hosted datacenter model. Being able to share resources in an efficient and eco-friendly manner while cutting costs is a potentially winning proposition, and it's what sustainability is all about.

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