by Asif Khan
I was recently asked by one of my clients to interview potential candidates for the position of Executive Director of IT Infrastructure Engineering. The ED would be responsible for managing four large engineering teams that span physical infrastructure, virtual infrastructure, data analytics and emerging technologies.
Since I had been filling in as the Interim ED for the past several months for this client, I had a pretty good idea of what qualities to look for. So I prepared an interview strategy to evaluate a candidate’s communication skills, multi-tasking ability, management experience, leadership skills and vision.
Most of my questions were pretty straightforward and I went through them quickly. Instead, I saved most of the interview time for my “vision” question. In order to evaluate a candidate’s ability to articulate a vision, I asked a simple open-ended question: “what will the data center of 2020 look like?”
I was pleasantly surprised with a couple of really interesting discussions that emerged. These were well thought out ideas that I think are worth sharing. To be honest, I did get more than a few buzzword-laden responses that went something like “blah blah cloud computing, blah blah virtualization,” but we won’t mention those ;-).
So What’s the Right Answer?
Obviously, there was no right or wrong answer. I was more focused on the articulation part rather than the actual vision. But the following is a compendium of the collective thoughts on the future of data centers by some pretty smart cookies coupled with some of my own observations.
First, let’s start by looking at the last ten years of data center innovation. The conclusion was…not much had changed.
Yes it’s true that disks offer more GBs, CPUs offer more GHz and networks offer more Gbps. But otherwise, the gear looks pretty much the same as it did a decade ago. Even the leading vendors haven’t changed. EMC still sells the most storage. Intel still sells the most CPUs. And Cisco still sells the most network gear.
What About Virtualization?
We agreed that server virtualization was by far the most interesting data center innovation of the last decade. And now, storage and networks are also taking advantage of virtualization to automate previously difficult tasks like data tiering and network provisioning. But virtualization is just getting started. The next decade could be far more interesting.
Finally, what about the data center itself? There has been a real shift in the past decade in how we design data centers. For one, data centers have mostly moved from high population areas to the outback.
CIOs took advantage of the fact that bandwidth had become pervasive and moved their data centers to where real estate and labor costs were much cheaper. With virtualization, remote access and automation, administrators can monitor and manage data center equipment from anywhere. But a more interesting datacenter move was toward geographies that offered much cheaper power.
Consider this: the typical data center in California spends approximately $0.13 per kilowatt hour (KWh) to run and cool their equipment. In contrast, a data center that VMware recently built in sparsely populated eastern Washington state spends about $0.026/KWh thanks to abundant hydroelectric power. If I did my math right, that’s an 80% reduction in power costs.
Another related trend was to move data centers away from hot climate regions like the Southwest (Arizona, Texas, Nevada), that were all the rage a decade ago, to cooler climates to take advantage of ambient cooling. EMC recently built a state of the art data center in North Carolina where the ambient temperature is cooler than the average data center temperature for two thirds of the year. That has exponential impact on the cost of power and cooling.