NET(net), Inc.


Blog Series Part 1: A “Green” Data Center is More Than Meets the Eye

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “energy consumption by servers and data centers in the United States is expected to nearly double in the next five years to more than 100 billion kWh.”

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will be exploring the topic of developing, managing, and sustaining a resource efficient enterprise data center and the related infrastructure around us.  We will be exploring the responsible consumption of resources that make up the IT environment for the enterprise, examining the popular notions of the “Green” data center and going beyond the mainstream in tackling topics that have an important impact on IT related resource consumption.

We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the resources contributing to our consumption of information technology.  As global citizens we are on a collision course that is unsustainable, given the rapid consumption of energy across the planet as underdeveloped countries advance their economies and developed nations continue to grow and increase their use of automation and other energy consuming conveniences.  Our planet’s uses of energy through non-renewable fossil fuels will likely outpace our ability to find new sources if we don’t reduce and improve the efficiency of our consumption first.  In the most recent U.S. Energy Information Administration International Energy Outlook report in 2009, total world consumption of marketed energy is projected to increase by 44 percent from 2006 to 2030.  The largest projected increase in energy demand is for the non-OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development; developing countries) economies (http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/world.html).

An unfortunate and vitally important consequence of this energy consumption is our output of Carbon Dioxide emissions.  Scientifically regarded as a contributor to climate change, total CO2 emissions—as calculated with all projected full measures of CO2 emission reduction programs underway or planned—are projected to increase by 17 percent from 2010 to 2020 (http://www.state.gov/g/oes/rls/rpts/car/90324.htm).

We clearly still have our work cut out for us.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “energy consumption by servers and data centers in the United States is expected to nearly double in the next five years to more than 100 billion kWh, costing about $7.4 billion annually”.  Similar energy cost increases are expected in Europe, Asia, and else­where. (http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/prod_development/downloads/EPA_Datacenter_Report_Congress_Final1.pdf).

However with data centers, and the other information infrastructure we have in businesses and the homes to support our information and communication needs around the world, it is still a drop in the bucket compared with overall energy consumption.  What we do have is the capability to turn the information technology into solutions for energy savings.

We see this today with smart grid technology applied by the utility companies to manage home energy usage and provide bi-directional communication between the home appliances and the energy company to manage energy usage wisely and efficiently.  Applied to the data center, smart energy technology can be timed with the business cycles to reduce energy consumption on resources that don’t have to run full throttle for supporting a business application that is comparatively idle.

We will explore these ideas and more in upcoming blog posts, as we delve into improving our information to energy ratio; squeezing more information out of the energy necessary to produce it—and, perhaps taken to the extreme, spending less energy on information that has less value.  Now that’s a tricky topic!

Stay tuned for future posts.

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Is an Official Classfication of Data Center Availabilty Capability Important?

The Uptime Institute developed a tiered classification approach to data center site infrastructure functionality and high-availability that addressed a need for a common benchmarking standard in this area that was usually based on opinion and conjecture up to this point.  This system has been in practice now since 1995 and is often referred to by enterprises and co-location/managed hosting service providers to tout the robustness of their data center.  The tiers classify from tier-I (Basic Data Center), where there is simply a single path for power and cooling distribution, without redundant components, providing to 99.671% availability, to tier IV (Fault Tolerant), where there is site infrastructure capacity and capability to permit any planned or unplanned activity without disruption to the critical load; 99.995% site availability.

The Uptime Institute has recently asserted two things in their leadership role in this area: there is no such thing as “almost tier III” or tier II+; you are either tier III or not adhering to the strict definition.  And you must be “certified” by the Uptime Institute’s certification body or a by an Uptime Institute  trained and certified consultant to refer to your data center as adhering to one of these classification levels.

I tend to think that the Uptime Institute’s tier classification has become a de facto standard and it is a little late and disingenuous to assert control now over using this term to describe a data center. I think it is telling that Uptime Institute reports that only “two dozen” data centers have had their tier rating certified.

This type of rating should be within the purview of an international standards body, not an organization, even a not-for-profit organization, that stands to benefit financially from certification. Adhering to a strict definition of a particularly tier level, such as the difference between level II and III, does not necessarily mean the data center is not meeting strict compliance for redundancy in important other areas. There is no allocation to weighting of measures of fail-over and redundancy; it is either all or nothing.

While I am not advocating ‘shades of gray’ when it comes to building a robust infrastructure, there are many factors that come into play when evaluating the availability of the infrastructure. All of this is for naught if the application architecture, the sole purpose of having a data center to begin with, is not built for a sufficient amount of resiliency and failover. No tier IV data center is going to save a poorly architected application.



Telecom Carrier Service Going From Poor to Worse

It was one of those days that are occurring with more frequency, with a couple more clients dumping on me about poor service from their telecom provider.  I spend a lot time engaging with the telecom providers day to day working on behalf of my clients and often experience this poor support first hand.  But I have the benefit of seeing this service from both the client perspective and the perspective of the account representative who is often struggling against the tide to maintain a decent level of support for their various (and increasingly numerous) accounts to manage.

This is nothing new of course.  The carriers have been notorious for poor account support, particularly if you are in the dreaded small to medium business category (which, of course, makes up the majority of the accounts for the telecom provider), and billing issues have always been the bane of the industry with many archaic and legacy billing systems supporting the load.  

However, a comment I received today from a long term client that I respect and whose opinion I value really struck me,  “I’m trying to do some simple things like cancel a couple of obsolete circuits and no one appears to understanding how to handle something so basic”.  He goes on, “I get transferred around and I have to repeat my request to someone that does seem to have even the most rudimentary knowledge to handle my request.”

This is just one example and only the most recent issue I hear of many problems weekly.  I hate to hear this because in our work at my company, NET(net), we are often in the position of recommending a particular carrier for new services or we are working to get an incumbent carrier to provide a better economic and value proposition for our clients. 

Yes, there are telecom providers that do it better than others, but all of them seem to run hot and cold.  And good account support is often a function of a good account manager that can carry the load on behalf of their customer and shield them from all the dysfunction in the carrier organization.  

One thing is seemingly for sure: the industry is moving in the wrong direction and is not endearing itself to the customers.  This sounds like an opportunity to me.   I have a responsibility as a professional to point out these issues whenever the opportunity presents itself as an advocate for my clients in my interactions with the carriers.   But there must be a business model out there waiting to happen to not only provide a relevant, quality and affordable telecom service, particularly from a financially stable provider, but to do so with a high touch, friendly, non-bureaucratic approach.

Is this telecom business out there?   Do you sell wireline, wireless mobility or managed services and think you’ve got it figured out?  If so, I’d like to hear from you.