Serving Up More Servers
Conversely, the evolving global economy is placing ever-growing demands on the data center to support more applications and more data. As American companies tackle new markets, build Web sites in new languages, manage more customer relationships and crunch all that new information, they're going to need more servers.
By 2010, predicts market researcher IDC, the 7,000 data centers in the United States will house 15.8 million servers--three times as many as a decade earlier. The growing number of power-hungry servers needed to run more apps and store more data is stretching energy resources to the limit in data centers, and the resulting power bills have gotten the C-level suite's attention.
Even power-efficient servers aren't enough to stem the tide. According to the Uptime Institute, a data center consultancy, computing performance is increasing threefold every other year, and those faster, more efficient chips require more power. Meanwhile, the power efficiency of servers is increasing just twofold every other year, leading Uptime to estimate that by 2012, a company purchasing $1 million worth of new servers will have to spend $6.5 million more in power and cooling infrastructure costs over the subsequent three years than it would have a dozen years earlier.
Moreover, the rising cost of energy in much of the world has forced data center managers, for whom the availability and expense of power has become a critical consideration, to adjust long-held strategies by making it possible to shift computing loads from one part of the world to another as conditions warrant.
"People are thinking about ways that data center operations can be moved around the globe because of changes in price, electricity, weather and the like," says Jonathan Koomey, a project scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and consulting professor at Stanford University. "You move loads to wherever costs are lowest," adds the author of numerous books and articles on energy efficiency, who has developed recommendations on energy efficiency and pollution prevention for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.
That's one reason Microsoft's new Chicago-area data center will employ 40-foot-long containers filled with ready-to-use server racks. The strategy, revealed a few months ago, reduces the cost and time required to bring a data center online and also prepares the company to shift data center resources in response to global economic changes.
"The container approach creates a modular data center," says Christian Belady, Microsoft's principal power and cooling architect. "As needs change in the world, it's conceivable--but still costly--to actually move some of the stuff around."
Clearly, global considerations make running a data center an increasingly complex pursuit, a reality that has some industry watchers expecting the cloud computing phenomenon to fill the gap. Koomey of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says companies trying to expand into overseas markets can use the subscription IT services available in the cloud to "follow the sun," tapping the service provider's data center resources that are closest to a company's overseas customer base.
Koomey also expects international offices that need more local computing power to turn more often to service providers to satisfy the needs their own IT departments can't meet. "Anything that allows you to put in a credit card and get the IT service you need is going to be very appealing," he says.
Unfortunately, the other challenges globalization poses for American IT departments won't be so easily solved. For example, a simple credit card transaction isn't going to help CIOs recruit IT talent, lower energy costs or monitor the expanding range of business indicators any global organization must watch over.
While the answers to the challenges facing IT departments remain elusive, the rewards for a proactive strategy are clear. Assemble the right talent, build the right applications and make the right strategic decisions for the data center, and you may win the gold: the potential for growth offered by the evolving global economy.
If that isn't sufficient motivation to act decisively, maybe this is: The future standing of American IT may depend on your actions.