Data Center Management Limbo: How Low Can You Go?

by Kenneth Hess

With better data center management, can one-tenth the price and one-tenth the power consumption deliver 10 times as much compute power? Lower the bar on runaway costs, false scalability promises and unchecked power consumption to find out.

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Most vendors talk about how scalable their solution is, but in the near future they'll likely talk about how minimizable it is. That's right. In this world of "super-sized" solutions and petabytes of data, the next marketing phrases you'll hear will have a Lilliputian accent associated with them. Listen for new buzzwords, such as minimized, downscaled and embedded. You might hear these words coupled with other more familiar computing terms like appliances, real-time and portable.

Yes, the data center of the very near future is tapping its toe to a lighter but more powerful beat. Will you get caught in limbo or will you lower the bar for your data center?

Sure, it takes a bit of altered thinking to imagine a data center that runs on a tenth of the power that provides five times the processing throughput compared to that of current data centers, but it's possible. And, not only is it possible, but you can do it yourself with a little help from your favorite vendor.


Next to cooling, servers gulp the most power in a data center. Big surprise? No. Compared to their physical counterparts,virtual servers piggybacked on physical servers sip. However, their physical chauffeurs still guzzle considerable amounts of electrons. The alternative? Appliances. Appliances are the replacements for standard server hardware and, yes, even virtual servers. Why? The modern appliance has the power of many with the appetite of less than one. Take the Kickfire Data Warehouse appliance, for example. For one-tenth the price and one-tenth of the power consumption of a comparable solution, you receive up to 10 times the computing power. That's the new appliance profile.

Yes, appliances have readily accessible scalability and high-availability built into them. They're designed to replace multi-server old school architecture in a smaller footprint and at a fraction of the price. Some possibilities are search appliances, data appliances, application appliances and appliances that serve up virtual appliances.


Storage needs grow exponentially for your new smart phone, your home computer and in the data center. Each new computing generation and technology refresh means adding storage. Storage needs almost inevitably grow beyond the most pessimistic predictions. If you projected, two years ago, that you would need one terabyte of storage for your data warehouse, you've most likely had to double or triple that amount by now. Hot copies, snapshots, regular backups, virtual machine storage, applications, user data and software repositories gobble space at an alarming pace.

The most obvious, but least practical option, is to decrease your organization's storage requirements. Alternatively, you can decrease the footprint of that data by employing deduplication solutions and solid state drives (SSDs) or small format serial attached SCSI (SAS) drives to hold that data. New, high-density drives are also on the way to help solve the ever-growing data sprawl problem.

Mechanical or spinning disks consume much more power than SSDs. The higher cost of an SSD is offset by its lower power needs and longer life expectancy.


Contemporary network devices take on more computing and data center management work than those of previous generations of hardware. Network hardware vendors plan to pass even more computing power to this data center layer. Embedded computing will soon find its way to network devices in your data center. Efficiency is a major driver here. Think of the increased efficiency of a smart load balancer that runs your Web services tier. Web requests enter your data center from the Internet; static requests and a few dynamic ones receive their information from the load balancer server device. They deliver a response back to the user with higher-level requests forwarded to appliances in the network.

Far fetched, you say? Read about Cisco's Unified Computing System before you decide to label this idea of data center management as fiction. Cisco devised this desktop-sized data center with footprint and cost minimization and high-performance delivery in mind.

Lowering the bar for data center management doesn't mean lowering expectations for delivery and performance. It means lowering the bar on runaway costs, false scalability promises and unchecked power consumption. How low can you go to win data center limbo?

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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This article was originally published on Thursday May 27th 2010
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