As the world's eyes turn to Copenhagen for the climate change summit, there will no doubt be considerable attention to the way that the IT industry will help shape future developments.
While, the humble data centre has not had as much publicity as power stations or the airline industry, IT equipment is no small contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions. IT managers have slowly come to realise that they have a part to play in reducing energy consumption - a realisation that was initially driven by the need to save costs but now, faced with variety of pressures, including government legislation, IT executives are looking to become more proactive in these initiatives.
Mike Manos, senior vice president for technical services at Digital Reality Trust, is a veteran of the data centre world. Formerly with Microsoft, where he was responsible for the company's containerised data centre design, he's widely recognised as a guru of the data centre world and he has plenty to say about the evolution of the data centre in a world where energy efficiency is going to be the order of the day.
While he acknowledges the Copenhagen summit as important, Manos doesn't believe that much of the debate will focus on the IT industry. "It's going to be important but it's not going to have a direct impact," he says.
But he says, while the Copenhagen discussions do not have any direct impact on data centre design that's not to say that managers aren't aware of the importance of introducing energy efficient systems or are unaware of the impact of discussions between governments. "Managers always used to rate reliability and redundancy as the most important features of a data centre - not any more, they don't. That's slipped right down and energy efficiency is now number one. That's not going to change - we're going to see more regulation from governments in the coming years."
Manos sees the current discussions over carbon emissions as driving a fundamental change in data centre design. "They've looked much the same for years," he says, "but the data centre of the future is going to be very different. I don't mean that they're going to look like giant spaceships but there will be fundamental differences," Manos adds.
Underlying this change will be a shift in the way that IT is going to be driven higher up the food chain says Manos. "In the future, IT managers will have to account for all the energy their departments consume."
Manos gives an illustration of the basic problem. "I give a lot of presentations and always ask my audiences the same question: how many of you are power of your IT systems and the answer's always about 10 percent of the audience. Then I ask, ‘how many of you are measuring the power efficiency of your IT systems', the answer's generally about one percent of the audience and then I ask how many CIOs see the power bill - and if I'm lucky, there's one person."
The traditional separation between IT and facilities management is just an example of the type of problem that that CIO has to face in future. He will now have to consider issues that have not been part of his remit before and that could mean altering perceived wisdom too, says Manos. "It's been a given that all data centres need air conditioning but that's no longer the case. Is it possible to use outside air within the building?" he asks.
And what of the design of the data centre? Choosing between raised floors and hard floors is something to consider says Manos. "There's Huge emerging push towards data centre modularisation - interchanging technology as your footprint changes," says Manos. "You can build a pod on Tier 4 space and another pod on Tier 1 and 2, for example. It's easierto change a pod rather than a whole data centre," he adds.
There's also the question of where the data centre is sited. Traditionally, data centres have been close to corporate offices, for latency reasons but increasingly there are issues around this. There are many data centres in the London area, for example, that are dangerously close to the maximum power capacity as electricity companies try to keep on top of customers' needs.
Consequently, Manos thinks that users are going to need a re-think about the location of their data centres and will start looking beyond the locality of their main offices. "There's a server-hugging mentality among IT folk, they want to be as close to the equipment as possible. There could be a reason to be within a certain distance from a data centre because some applications work with a particular latecy but managers have to ask what application has the biggest impact, it could be that software costing £5000 could have an effect on $100m on capital infrastructure, he says.
Manos realises that such thinking is revolutionary for IT managers who traditionally have not bothered about any aspect of the data centre apart from the IT equipment itself, and of course, the growth of cloud computing is also set to have a big impact.
Mano also thinks that the current interest in virtualisation is not the panacea that it's universally reckoned to be. "Managers should focus on the overall utilisation and develop a good eco-system. For example, if you have one application that's very CP-intensive, you virtualise that. But some applications are memory intensive or network intensive and that means you're playing at giant jigsaws, trying to find the best eco system. Virtualisation is certainly an enabler and can help in some instances but in some cases it can create more problems than it solves."
Ultimately, the future of the data centre depends on IT and facilities management talking together. Manos acknowledges that this is a huge cultural change given the divergent interests "It has to be a blended transformation between IT and facilities. It will mean change: fundamentally, IT people have no interest in building chillers and facilities have no interest in racks and servers but ultimately the two sections will be collapsed into the IT organisation."
And if there's going to be one legacy of Copehagen that impacts on IT departments it's going to be in the transformation of the political structure of organisations. The long term effect is going to have a massive impact on every part of the corporate organisation, ranging from data centre design and where they're sited to who looks at the energy bills and how costs are allocated. We're heading for interesting times.