Ben Hatton The benefits of data center consolidation

I’ve written a lot about how data center colocation can help your business grow, especially if it is growing faster than your current data center can keep up. However, we don’t often think about the other side of the spectrum, where an organization may be so geographically spread out that it becomes more efficient and cost-effective for them to consolidate multiple data center locations into one. While this practice is sometimes a necessity for some businesses, it virtually always brings major benefits that I want to highlight in this post. Data center consolidation

Quick disclaimer

I’ll make the fairly obvious point that consolidating down from multiple data center locations isn’t something every company will ever need to go through. Consolidations are undertaken by organizations that already have multiple data center locations, usually as a result of having multiple geographic locations across a region, or the country. If a business has multiple offices throughout the country, for example, and each office has its own server room or data center that backs up data and runs applications, then this would be a prime candidate that could benefit from a data center consolidation.

Why consolidate?

Organizations like this that choose to reduce their data center footprint see several positive benefits, including:

Cost savings from having fewer data center facilities and space to maintain.

Stronger security as a result of their infrastructure becoming more centralized and less geographically spread out.

Easier to stay in compliance with fewer locations that must be audited on a regular basis.

The results speak for themselves

Easily the biggest real-world example of a data center consolidation project can be seen in the US government’s consolidation initiative that began back in 2010. Over the past 5 years, government agencies have reduced their number of data centers by the hundreds, and the process is still ongoing. To date, these agencies have seen an estimated cost savings of $2 billion as a result of this consolidation, with an expected additional savings of over $4 billion over the next 3 years*. They have been able to see significant savings while also leveraging new technologies to operate more efficiently and dynamically than ever before.

These are just a few of the high level reasons why it’s a smart business decision to consolidate and reduce your overall data center footprint when possible. In a future post I’ll look at some ways that you can begin planning for a data center consolidation as well…stay tuned!

 

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Ben Hatton Why data center humidity may be going down

Humidity

Image courtesy of Flickr user mag3737

When it comes to data center environmental monitoring, temperature and humidity have always been the key metrics that provide insight into a data center’s operating environment. Like the temperature, humidity is something that is continually monitored to ensure it is kept at a consistent and acceptable level (traditionally this level has been in the range of 40-55%). At Data Cave we monitor and maintain this humidity level in all of our data suites.

With many of the advancements in server technology and in modern data centers, this traditional level has been gradually shifting, just like the recommended temperature has been (check out our Why Data Center Temperatures are going up post to learn more about that). ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers), the leading authority over heating and air-conditioning standards across many different industries, has adjusted its recommended humidity levels for data centers from time to time over the years, and is poised to announce more changes to its recommendations later this year.

Specifically, they are expected to publish recommendations that the relative humidity (dew point) of data centers can be made lower than it has been in the past, without having a substantial impact on electrostatic discharge (ESD) put off from server equipment. This is based on a recent study that they undertook together with the University of Missouri.

Some background

It’s a well known fact that when a room is less humid, the air is naturally dryer. This leads to an increase in static electricity that is generated from constantly running server equipment. If this electricity goes  unchecked, it can often lead to a discharge, which can damage or destroy the server equipment.

The reason this study (and the anticipated recommendations coming out of it) is so relevant, is because it could have implications for how data centers manage their humidity levels, as well as how frequently may they utilize free cooling methods. If it can be documented and proven that a lower relative humidity can be implemented without noticeably raising the risk of ESD, that could lead to a change throughout many data centers.

Many classes of recommendations

An important thing to remember when it comes to the existing and future recommendations on humidity levels, is that the recommendations themselves are relative to specific types of equipment. ASHRAE uses several different classes of equipment for its temperature and humidity recommendations, with the overall recommendations varying from class to class. Many of these classes have been added just in recent years as newer, more sophisticated types of IT equipment have come on the market that can handle higher temperatures and lower humidity.

Moving in a good direction

What this indicates to me is that any shift towards lower humidity levels in the data center is really the result of advancements in server technology, cooling methods, and data center layouts. If ASHRAE does indeed lower their recommendations on data center humidity levels, I believe it will be a strong indicator of how far we have come in terms of the technology that exists, as well as where the industry is heading in with regards to humidity.

 

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Ben Hatton Is your cyber security a company-wide effort?

As we’ve touched on in the past, a company’s cyber security risks are always present and growing, and security efforts are an ongoing and continually evolving exercise. However, for many companies the required prioritizing and budgeting for cyber security is often left by the wayside, depending on the level of awareness, accountability, and collaboration that exists throughout the organization as a whole. All hands on deck with cyber security

Having a successful cyber security strategy means having shared collaboration, accountability, and ownership of your security throughout all of the levels of your organization. This ‘all hands on deck’ approach is essential, so I want to look at some ways that a company can create an environment that makes cyber security more than just a goal for the IT department, but for the entire company.

1) Raise your collective knowledge level

Arming your organization with knowledge is one of the best steps you can take towards embracing stronger cyber security efforts. Since the risks are always evolving, the information and the technologies that are out there are always growing as well. Because of this, it’s vital to stay educated and well informed of trends in the security industry, the latest vulnerabilities, how other companies are responding to security risks, and more.

2) Raise your accountability

After the Target breach last year, most of the blame for the breach was ultimately levied against the company’s upper management and board of directors, for an overall ‘lack of management and ownership’ of the company’s cyber security. That breach was a wake-up call in a lot of ways, but especially in the sense that a company’s cyber security strategy really needs to start at the top in order to really be effective. Cyber security is something that is ‘owned’ by everyone in an organization, but that ownership example has to be set by the organization’s top management. When that final ownership (and the accountability that comes with it) is taken at the top, the importance of security can be better prioritized as a company goal that in the long run, everyone will be accountable for.

3) Raise your preparedness

A final area to consider is your organization’s ability to assess your actual preparedness level against security threats. This means engaging in the ongoing planning, implementation, and testing that is required for any cyber security initiative. When every level of your organization is ‘all hands on deck,’ full preparedness becomes a much more attainable goal.

More and more, cyber security isn’t something that is relegated strictly to the IT world, but it has become a challenge to companies as a whole. And as such, it can only be effectively tackled when every level of an organization works together. By actively engaging every level of your organization and getting everyone involved in this process, you can take the first steps towards an effective, long-term security strategy.

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Ben Hatton Sensory Technologies: A data center case study

Sensory Technologies case study

Case study on Sensory Technologies, a great Data Cave client

In addition to providing companies with a higher level of security and availability for their data and equipment, for many we are also able to contribute to their overall growth, through our colocation services. This has been the case with Sensory Technologies, an Indianapolis-based audio-visual solutions provider that is one of our many great clients. Their explosive growth made it necessary for them to identify a data center provider with the capacity, redundancy, and connectivity to ensure a much higher level of scalability than their original location.

We have created a new case study that takes a look into their data center story. In the study you will learn more about this great company, including:

  • The biggest objectives that drove their data center decision-making.
  • The key reasons for their partnership with Data Cave for their colocation needs.
  • Improvements to their data center environment and overall scalability, as well as their future growth plans.

We are excited to share their story with you, and we hope you get a lot out of it! To download the whitepaper, just click the link below to be taken to the download page:

Sensory Technologies Case Study – Download page

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Ben Hatton A lesson in data center communication

Server room

During a downtime event, a data center’s customer communication procedures are just as important as their ability to fix the issue itself.

I recently read a story from Data Center Knowledge that caught my attention, and not necessarily in a good way. The article was essentially a data center horror story, chronicling an ordeal that no data center (and certainly no data center customer) ever wants to experience. You can check out the story here; I won’t make mention of who the data center in question was, but I do want to look at the situation itself, and what lessons can be learned from it.

The outage, and how it was communicated

In mid-March, an outage occurred while the data center was performing scheduled maintenance. While a minimal level of downtime can sometimes be expected during a scheduled maintenance period, it quickly became clear that this downtime was very much out of the ordinary because it lasted for a very long time. In fact, it was to the point that many of their colocation customers reported downtime of up to 24 hours.

While this was obviously a colossal problem in itself, it was only half of the battle for this data center. The other half was in how it communicated to its clients. Many of its customers reported that they were not kept up to date in any way on the status of the work to correct the issue, with several lashing out on social media. While the data center did provide some updates from time to time, there was very little detailed communication done on a consistent basis. This certainly didn’t do anything to help the situation.

My reaction

I think for me, the craziest part about this whole story was the lack of proper communication on the part of the data center during this event. If I was a customer, I would want to be kept in the loop on work being done as much as possible, even if what’s being communicated to me isn’t always positive (ie. “We’re still working on it, we’ll have another update soon, etc.”). It’s no different than if your power or cable went out, where you would want to hear that it is being worked on, and when you could expect the issue to be resolved. And the more time that goes by without receiving any updates, the more uneasy we all become.

Data center communication lessons from this story

The goal for any data center is for downtime to never occur in the first place, but in the event that it does, or in the event that there is a planned downtime event for maintenance (as this apparently was), the level of communication is one of the most important things the data center must be able to handle well. Here are a few ways that a situation like this could have been better handled from a communication standpoint:

  • Communicate with customers frequently, as in at least once per hour. This was a major area that was lacking in this circumstance, and if updates had been communicated on a consistent basis, the tension level could have been hugely reduced. Even if there was nothing new to report on the work being done, a simple “We’re still working on it, we’ll be in touch again in xx minutes” would have been tremendous as well.
  • Be as transparent as you can be, providing as many details on the work being done as possible. Colocation customers always need to be well-informed, especially when there is an outage.
  • Reach your customers where they are, and don’t rely on just a single medium to get the message out. This means having a plan in place that involves communicating through multiple channels such as email, SMS, social media, etc.

At its worst, this situation was a source of a lot of pain for this data center’s colocation clients. At its best though, I feel that it can be a good case study of how communication should and shouldn’t be handled during a crisis. Our communications policy at Data Cave involves the use of multiple channels (email, SMS, our online ticketing system, and phone) to communicate things like maintenance notifications, updates on work being completed, and updates on work being done by upstream providers. Keeping our clients well-informed of any work being done either by us or connectivity providers is a very big deal to us.

What are your thoughts about this story? Are there any thoughts or lessons that you took away from it? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear them!

 

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