The Power Smackdown in the Data Center: IT Department vs. Facilities Managers

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 |
By Jeff S. Johnson
Enterprise Strategist at Dell

OK, it’s not a smackdown like on TV, but it is a power struggle, so to speak. Data centers consume a lot of power in companies. In one corner you have the IT department who is tasked with keeping and meeting the IT needs of the organization, scaling and staying within what is usually a flat budget envelope. In the other corner you have the facilities manager that is trying to manage overall costs, power use, space utilization, and the needs of the organization as a whole. A couple years ago the two rarely needed to talk, except if the data center manager needed more space.

The new smackdown is about power. Not political power but electricity. Globally, electricity prices have risen nearly 60% in the past couple years. Gartner says that 50% of data centers will lack sufficient power by 2008.

IT managers haven’t really had to care too much about power consumption for a couple of reasons. Rarely has power used the data center or any other technology been isolated, so it hasn’t been tracked or measured. The primary focus has been on eliminating business disruption, building IT agility, and meeting business needs. And for most managers, 70% of their budget is spent on maintenance and managing an aging, heterogeneous infrastructure. It’s all about performance.

Facilities managers worry about the physical side of the equation: power costs, getting more compute power out of the same space, and cooling. They wonder where they will get the space, if the utility is going to be able to deliver enough power, if they have enough breakers for new equipment, exceeding rack capacity, and a lot more. For some, the only way to add a new server is to take one out.

So the two sides are forced to talk. The IT manager needs performance. The facilities manager needs control. And what happens if they don’t? Inefficiency, more complexity, and the problems will certainly get worse. But if they do collaborate great things can happen. Here are some examples of what is available today:

  • Energy efficient servers that use up to 25% less energy, but deliver the same performance – saving up to $200 per year per server.
  • Increasing compute capacity by being able to put five servers in the same power envelope as four.
  • Spot cooling solutions that focus on hot spots – saving 30% or more --not on inefficiently cooling the entire room.
  • Holistic solutions that reduce energy consumption by up to 75% with the same power usage, or twice the performance in the same space, or twice the number of servers in the same power envelope.

Are there reasons for the two sides to talk? Absolutely. Can the two sides, with the right outside partner, lower costs, increase performance, manage space and meet each others’ needs? Absolutely. Some companies have done a lot of work to simplify this process. But what I’m more interested in are your stories. How is the relationship between facilities and IT? How do you break down the barriers?

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