Has anyone ever seen a neat, tidy working farm? On the assumption that most, if not all of us would reply ‘No’ to the question, it seems safe to believe that a messy farm equals a busy, thriving farm. The same is definitely not true when it comes to data centres. Nope, a messy data centre, with cables here, there and everywhere (just like Old Macdonald’s Farm!), and blanking panels not here, there and everywhere (rather gaps in the floor and the aisles) is almost certainly the most obvious sign of an inefficient, energy-hungry, un-optimised facility. So, resolution number one, tidy up your data centre. This doesn’t mean reaching for the glossy brochures and spending thousands. Yes, you can purchase all manner of elegant and practical hardware to help tidy up your data centre, but you can also take the home-grown approach and use your domestic DIY skills to repair and improve the obvious problems in your data centre.
Following the tidy up, or maybe even before it, why not make sure that you actually know what you have in the data centre – what it is, what it does, who uses it and how old or new it is? Ideally, you need to check both the facilities infrastructure and the IT kit it houses/runs. You’d be surprised at just how many data centres contain items that seem to have been there forever, but nobody seems to know for just how long, or what they actually do. This might be less likely for the actual cabinets, cooling plant and the like – after all they are fairly large, obvious items (although you would be surprised at how many data centres don’t know just how many cabinets they own!), but when it comes to the servers, switches and storage housed in the cabinet racks, well, that’s a different story altogether. And, of course, it requires a conversation with the IT folks, which brings us neatly on to resolution number three.
Convergence is not a swear word, rather the desired coming together of the data centre facilities and IT folks to ensure that the data centre operates as efficiently and effectively as possible. Put simply, without true convergence taking place, no data centre can be completely optimised. ‘Ah, but my data centre has a PUE of 1.00000001,’ I hear you say, ‘and a data centre doesn’t get much more efficient than that.’ Wrong. The ‘1’ represents the IT load, so in accepting that the best you can ever achieve is near enough 1, then you’re accepting that the IT load is a given and can’t be made more efficient. Bearing in mind the advances in server, networking and storage over the past few years, it’s almost certain that you can do something about the power consumption/performance equation when it comes to the IT infrastructure, but, if you don’t talk to the IT folks, then you’ll never know what might be achieved.
And knowledge, the gaining and improving of, has to be another data centre resolution. If you don’t undertake some kind of planned or even ad hoc educational activities - whether that be just wandering (or even wondering) around a trade show, and sitting in on some of the free conference sessions, or deciding you need to know more about one or more specific topic, and going out and paying someone to provide this educational training.
In many industries, when it comes to learning new ideas and improving existing business processes, benchmarking also plays a useful role. Owing to the secretive nature of many data centres, the idea of comparing and contrasting your own data centre performance with that of others may not be that easy to achieve, but there’s no doubt that, even if on an informal basis, attending specific data centre events allows for some kind of a dialogue with your data centre peers, and you may well pick up some good ideas from these unofficial information exchanges.
Finally, if not exhaustively, but almost certainly most importantly, do some planning. I was lucky enough to spend a day at Royal Ascot earlier in the summer (and tell all the guests how data centres are a vital part of today’s multi-faceted betting industry) and, on the way there, my host was talking to my eldest son, asking him what he wanted to do in life, asking the seemingly innocuous question: “Do you have a plan?” He went on to point out that, without a plan, you have no aims or objectives, so how can you then decide if you are doing what you really want to do, or just drifting along reacting to life, let alone decide if you are being successful as measured by your own goals? Don’t worry, we’re not heading down the philosophy or meaning of life route. I just use this as an illustration of the importance of having a plan, no matter what, where or when.
In the data centre, your plan could involve short, medium and long term goals, with each of these involving one or more actions. A short term objective might be as simple as ensuring that any query received by the data centre team, no matter what, receives an initial response within a specific timeframe; a medium-term objective could be to check all your hardware over, say, the next six months, to understand whether it’s still fit for purpose or time for an overhaul or replacement; and a long term objective could be to create a truly converged data centre/IT environment and, subsequently, a truly optimised data centre/IT infrastructure that caters for the needs of the business, whether that means keeping all such activities in-house, or using a mix of in-house, colo and, maybe, Cloud and managed services.
As baseball legend Yogi Berra put it: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”