Virtual reality for data centers

Telecom Staff
10 Aug 2009

The role of the data center is changing for service providers as virtualization provides a way for the data center business to be less focused on straight collocation and hardware-based hosting and more on sophisticated network-based services that aren't dependent on physical infrastructure and are becoming increasingly customizable. The end goal: the fabled cloud, where apps, services and even computing power reside in the network. The question: how can service providers feasibly get there, and what obstacles lie in their path?

A group of service provider executives pondered the present and future path of data centers at a marathon roundtable session in July, encompassing global carriers and local players in Hong Kong, Malaysia and India, as well as regional executives from Cisco Systems.

Power and management

Discussion kicked off with the point that the shift toward virtualized data centers is creating a number of challenges for service providers, starting with the physical plant itself. Power density is increasing significantly as the customer base becomes more diverse and servers run hotter.

"I like to joke that the one thing our data centers produce more than anything is heat," said Michael Jenkins, network integration and engagement director of AT&T Asia Pacific. "Power demands used to be below 1kVa, now it's not uncommon for customers to demand 3+kVa worth of power per rack. That's the result of virtualization more than anything else. In the past, servers would sit idle for minutes if not hours at a time, but now they're running very fast and very hot."

Brandon Lee, executive vice president at NTT, added that's partly the product of the rise of Web 2.0 giants like Google and Facebook. "They're growing so big that they want to have high concentrations."

"The second-largest bill I sign is power, which accounts for over 50% of my cost for data centers," said Arvind Mathur, chief architect at Sify, who expresses the density issue in kilograms. "If you look at our load-bearing capacity, the sheer weight of the IT infrastructure going in has grown from 300-400 kg per square meter a few years ago to 1500-1800 kg per square meter today. The density, power requirements and physical requirement to support it have gone up, which means the costs have also gone up in deploying them."

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