Flexibility: King of Data Centre 'Abilities'

Written by Anthony Carter, MD, Connotations Publishing Ltd. Published 2019-01-03 09:58:06

What does it take to build a data centre fit for the 21st century? Ask your typical IT engineer and you'll hear all about adaptability, scalability, and a whole host of other 'abilities'. But king among them all is flexibility. If nothing else, a data centre not flexible enough to meet ever-changing customer needs is one that is not going to survive over the long-term.

At the centre of the modern data centre is the simple fact that enterprise-level needs are now driving data centre direction. It used to be that data centres served mainly smaller clients with neither the need nor resources to build their own data centres onsite. This has changed over the last 5 to 10 years.

Today's data centre is just as likely to host enterprise-level corporate customers as those same smaller customers the business was built on. But the difference is that corporate customers have very different requirements. Furthermore, they expect the data centres they contract with to provide exactly what they would want from an onsite data centre were they to build one themselves.

You Start with the Basics

Building a flexible data centre for the modern era starts with the basics. Corporate customers are looking for prime locations, reliable utilities, well-built buildings, and cost-effective power and cooling solutions. So how do you account for these basics while still maintaining flexibility?

Data centre location is fixed, so there's little flexibility there. Building construction is also fixed once it's complete. But buildings can be designed to be flexible in everything from dedicated space to how resources are utilised. This is achieved through a modular concept. Building a data centre as a series of modules is a lot like building flexible retail or office space. Interior spaces can be defined and redefined as necessary to satisfy client needs, and some providers will even twin track the fit out of customer space with the build-out of the whole facility.

Designing Efficient Spaces

Remembering that corporate clients want data centre space that provides everything an in-house data centre would provide, new data centres need to offer dedicated space that allows each client to control its own efficiency. For example, building secure suites that isolate client spaces is ideal.

One example is a secure suite that allows a customer to control its own cooling system, a system designed around its unique needs. Another customer can deploy high-density supplemental thermal storage in its secure suite while still another customer can implement something completely different.

Dedicated space also alleviates the need for customers to share. As strange as this sounds, not having to share space or resources is increasingly important in the modern data centre. Clients want their own exclusive space and resources separate from everyone else.

Flexibility Facilitates the Other Abilities

Flexibility in both design and implementation has a more far-reaching effect than providing dedicated, efficient spaces for corporate customers. It also facilitates all of the other abilities data centres should possess. For example, consider adaptability.

The concept of adaptability is simply an extension of flexibility. An adaptable data centre can rise to meet the changing needs of clients over the long term. If one client needs an updated cooling system, that system can be implemented in isolation. New servers can be deployed, racks can be modified, and storage space can be added or taken away as needed.

Flexibility also facilitates scalability. As a client's needs grow, the flexibility afforded by modular design allows that client's space to grow with it. With more space comes more servers, more storage, more of everything that makes the data centre work.

Added Flexibility through Virtualisation

Getting back to the topic of efficiency, the modern data centre also has to excel at agility. A combination of flexibility and agility allows the data centre to implement changes, and then respond to and recover from those changes as quickly as possible. The ability to do this effectively is measured and expressed as a 'time-to rating'.

How much time does it take to implement changes? How quickly is the data centre able to respond to and recover from changes? If things take too long, the data centre is incapable of meeting client needs as efficiently as expected.

To facilitate flexibility and agility, data centres are turning to virtualisation. Systems are deployed as multi-layered virtualisation stacks controlling physical servers and networks. Messaging and storage are both virtualised in order to offer rapid deployment, change adoption, and disaster recovery.

There are some who say the data centre is dead. Not everyone agrees. The data centre is alive and well, and it is getting stronger as it becomes more flexible. As such, flexibility is the king of all data centre abilities, bar none. When flexibility is approached with the right mindset, it facilitates all other abilities in the equation.

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