Servers sit in a temperature-controlled high-density pod. Consolidating small data centers into fewer, larger ones inherently increases efficiency, says Jay Owen. (Schneider Electric)
As agencies struggle to close hundreds of data centers across the government, they are turning to contractors to implement new technology and save money. The administration has pledged to close 40 percent of its data centers by the end of fiscal 2015.
Jay Owen, the Vice Presiden of IT Federal Solutions at Schneider Electric, said agencies are making progress consolidating data centers but that more hurdles lie ahead. He spoke to Federal Times about how agencies are moving forward and what they could do to speed up the process.
How are agencies doing making their data centers more efficient?
OWEN: I think a big part of it that we have to acknowledge is just the act of consolidating facilities is making things more efficient, you donít necessarily have to take whatever data centers are left and make them state of the art to have huge efficiency savings. If you are trimming down several hundred more data centers by default you are becoming significantly more efficiently even if what you are left with is state of the arty in terms of efficiency. A lot of what has been closed are things that in the grand scheme of things are fairly easy Ė and I donít want to trivialize it because I am sure the people doing it are saying its not exactly easy Ė but if you are closing a number of smaller facilities its fairly easy to absorb that into a bigger facility. So that in and of itself is making things more efficient. The efficiency of the remaining data centers will not be on par with building a brand new facility but thatís ok because they donít need to be in order to have large efficiency gains.
What kinds of technologies for data center efficiency are agencies beginning to embrace?
OWEN: Some of the things we are seeing that they are doing to become more efficient is a concept of high-density pod. We are talking about essentially an air containment system and air conditioning systems that are very close to the server load producing the heat. We can actually contain the aisles that the servers sit in and that is tremendously more efficient that the traditional ways of providing cooling such as under a raised floor. Itís significantly more efficient. You donít have to have the same kind of fan horsepower having to blow air a fairly long distance. In contrast to that placing smaller air conditioning units throughout the racks means you donít have to be delivering that cold air very far. One of the concepts is that you can use these high density pods to handle new equipment that is coming in and set aside a section of the data center and it operates on its own and you can let the rest of the data center continue to operate as it. As the rest of the IT in that facility turns over you can start adding more of these pods. Itís a very cost effective way to handle consolidation because you donít have to do a mass upgrade all at once.
Has tight budget made it more challenging over the last two years for agencies to consolidate data centers and will the newly passed budget help?
OWEN: Itís definitely been a challenge. When you look at consolidation overall its not necessarily something that is line item funded and you have to go through your normal process to kick off a project if you want to fund something through appropriations. We have definitely seen a number of projects that have seen difficulty getting funding. That has definitely been a factor in the last few years. Since Jan. 14 when the budget was passed Ė I definitely expect that would allow some activity to pick up and some movement to be made toward these initiatives. We havenít seen that yet since it takes some time for the dollars to trickle down for the folks to do the work.
Are there any new tools agencies are using to make data centers more efficient?
OWEN: Its not at all new overall but its very new in the data center space is energy savings performance contracts. I think there is a lot of activity without a lot of progress so far. There is a DOE consolidation project that has been held up where the intent was to accommodate that project as an ESPC, but that has hit some hiccups. But there are several other consolidation projects that involve ESPCs that we are pursuing that customers are interested in. They may not be data center specific so the purpose of the ESPC may not be data center consolidation but it could be overall improving the efficiency of a campus or facility but we can tie the data center into that espc.