Data Centers And The Environment – What Are The Issues And Opportunities?

When developing a plan for creating, staffing, managing and supplying a Data Center …. there’s much to consider. Such as how your company and or its products will have an impact on the environment …. and what some of that impact may be for your customers.

The answer will vary by the type of user and data center. Service providers have in the past had little motivation to achieve higher levels of efficiency or to lessen environmental impact. In today’s supply constrained market, that still holds true. Though there are marketing benefits for modest improvements. For single-tenant sites, the benefits of higher efficiency, and the corporate benefits of minimizing the environmental impact (noise, etc.) on the surrounding community, can be substantial.

According to the most recent report to congress, servers and data centers consumed about 1% of the total electrical consumption in the US from 2000 to 2005. That number is expected to double by 2011. Server and Data Center consumption exceeded the consumption of color TV’s in the US in that period of time. As the economy and businesses rely more on data centers as a business operation tool …. critical review and new thought must be used to provide availability, network security and efficiency. The federal government data centers represent almost 10% of the 1% value.

EPA is currently evaluating requirements for EnergyStar data centers and servers. At this time there are several industry groups engaged in efficiency ion servers and data centers. That would be Climate Savers Computing Initiative, The GreenGrid, SPECpower to name a few. Also governments are addressing efficiency in operations and in the data center and servers; EPA and the EU. Utilities have been engaged in data center efficiency improvements and have incented these improvements specifically in areas where energy resources are thin. The leaders in this area are PG&E, Austin Energy, NYSERDA, NSTAR and others.

In Europe there are strong peer pressures to be energy efficient. At BT, they’ve developed a strategy and 21st Century Data Center design that uses 60% less energy than conventional data centers. This simultaneously gives them a commercial advantage as well as a marketing edge in the green space.

In Europe, and particularly the UK, there is a new push for greener technologies, particularly where they converge on a single, overcrowded, limited footprint site – the Datacenter.

The environmental pressures are expressed to businesses in the form of requirements for compliance to environmental regulations and legislations, such as the WEEE* directive or RoHS**. Added to these compliance issues are the business costs of managing the additional power and environmental requirements resulting from engineering more and more processing poer into a smaller and smaller physical footprint (think BladeServers and 1U appliances).

Another concept, not yet incorporated into legislation but already loosely defined in marketing-speak and bandied about as a measure of an organization’s eco-profile is the “carbon footprint”. Which will take factors like power consumption, heating and heat dissipation, lighting, and building materials into account. But also cost of support and maintenance in terms of employee travel to and from site, DR overheads, resilience and redundancy, etc.

This is also an area of significant sensitivity to corporations. Since the most sensitive data and the majority of revenue streams depend upon the operational availability of data centers and the security of the networks supporting them. As the standards setting moves forward several points are clear: 1) real reduction in energy consumption across the board is needed 2) the focus is on the components of the data center, 3) a holistic top down review of efficiency in the data center and servers is required, 4) this is not once and done, but a process of data center and server evolution.

Vendors, Distributors, resellers and end customers are now moving to an understanding of these issues, and we are now seeing Datacenters being designed with those criteria in mind. Now we are seeing the deployment of such hitherto esoteric ideas as:

– More space-efficient, reduced-footprint server and comms rack cabinets (nifty sliding/folding doors, better equipment access with narrower aisles)

– Water-cooled rack cabinets (3,500-fold efficiency increase on traditional aircon)

– Remote, converged and consolidated centralised management of *all* Datacenter elements (carbon footprint savings in terms of reduction of callouts, employee travel, subsistence, fuel, onsite heating/lighting etc)

– Next Generation, high-efficiency (0.96+) Power Management (extended runtime UPS/battery back-up/DC-AC rectification and power distribution) – less power consumption and higher output, and again, carbon footprint savings in terms of reduction of callouts, employee travel, subsistence, fuel, onsite heating/lighting etc)

…this is just a taste… there are more “joined-up” technologies emerging every month.

In addition for the need to become “green” (using less power and cooling as new processors consume more) …. data center professionals are working on server virtualization. Which many feel is more of a concept than a reality. Data centers with mainframes are finding it increasingly difficult to find support staff as many of these experts are or have retired. Data center outsourcing is therefore increasing (studies show 8 to 13%) as the need for security and robust infrastructure increases.

There are also some obvious “environmental issues” surrounding data centers that center on the fact that they introduce a very high density of computing equipment:

1. Cooling requirements tend to be really hefty because of very high densities of both computers (e.g. – CPUs and memory) as well as sizable arrays of disk drives.

Of course, some benefits of “economies of scale” might be had if you can ensure high usage levels of all of the equipment. Unfortunately, the need for High Availability often means that the amount of hardware is immediately doubled or even tripled, with little opportunity to ensure High Usage.

2. The act of delivering expensive and delicate servers and components to the data center means that it has a remarkable density of trash generation in the form of the packaging used to safely deliver these items.

(And note that if you have redundant servers, that means delivering packing materials for those redundant servers…)

3. Battery backup and alternative power can put even more “environmental undesirables” into the location, between the stacks of lead/acid batteries, and diesel generators.

I have heard rumors that fuel cells might be well suited to replace some of these “environmental nasties,” but various of the common sorts of fuel cells introduce significantly dangerous components of their own.

4. All of the above need cooling, hence mandating *enormously* powerful air conditioning units.

There’s quite the multiplicative requirement, here; you need servers, and duplicates, and cooling for them all, and power and cooling to cover ALL of this.

Staffing Alternatives in Distributed Software Development – Part 2 of 2

executives and their attitudes on offshore outsourcing options. This article will review the methodology of the study, summarize the second 4 of its 8 key findings, and provide some closing thoughts. The first article in the series introduced the study and summarized the first 4 of its 8 key findings.

Methodology

The target audience for this research included individuals who are responsible for making software development staffing decisions at technology companies where software development was integral to the firms’ core mission. Interviewees had titles including CEO, president, CTO, director or vice-president of IT, and director or vice-president of software development. Respondents’ headquarters were located in Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area of Minnesota. Out of a pool of 250 randomly selected firms, telephone interviews were conducted with 49 individuals representing IT organizations with up to 500 full-time equivalents (FTEs). Among respondents, the average number of FTEs engaged in software development activities was forty (40).

Interviews were conducted in September 2007. The sponsor of this research was not identified during the interviews.

Finding #5 – Cost is the least important factor in making outsourcing decisions. Software development executives were then asked to rate the importance of a series of factors in their decisions regarding outsourcing software development to either U.S. or offshore vendors, using a 1-5 scale with 1 being “very low” and 5 being “very high.” Somewhat surprisingly, cost or budget concerns ranked dead last, making it the least important factor in deciding whether or not to outsource-apparently owing to IT managers’ improved ability to accurately forecast and budget for outsourced software development resources. Not surprisingly, the leading factor in these decisions is that IT manager’s have a strong preference for utilizing employees rather than contractors. Similarly, a poor personal perception of outsourcing in general came in as the second-most-important factor.

The next-most-important factor was a general concern that managers believe they may have insufficient control over contract personnel to ensure successful projects, followed by worries that in-house development process and procedures were ill-defined, and therefore not conducive to effective outsourcing. Managers also believe their in-house systems are too complex for effective outsourcing, followed by fears that their internal hardware or software environment does not lend itself to successful outsourcing.

Finding #6 – IT managers are business-savvy in their offshoring decisions. After learning participants’ concerns with outsourcing in general, they were asked to rate the importance of a series of factors or considerations in terms of their importance in making decisions about utilizing offshore software development contractors. Again, respondents rated these factors using a 1-5 scale with 1 being “very low’ and 5 being “very high.” For many people in the IT industry, the top-of-mind considerations regarding offshoring tend to be cultural issues, concerns about time-zone differences, and language or communication worries. Such was not the case in this study. Although concerns about language barriers rated fairly high overall, cultural and time zone issues ranked as the least important offshoring factors.

Overall, software development executives are much more focused on business-oriented, bottom line impacting issues than societal concerns and personal biases. The offshore vendor’s technical expertise ranked as the single most important factor in these decisions, followed by worries about the potential loss of intellectual property.

Offshore vendors’ project management capabilities and project controls also ranked fairly high, with an average score 3.6, followed by the vendor’s knowledge and experience in the company’s industry. Many respondents were also concerned that their in-house project management and project controls may be insufficient for effective offshoring. Pricing ranked fairly low among offshoring considerations, presumably because most IT managers expect to receive highly attractive hourly rates from all offshore vendors.

Finding #7 – India has been the dominant global center for offshore outsourcing work. Participants were asked to indicate the offshore locations from which their firm has utilized contract resources in the past, from a list that included: India, China, South Pacific, Eastern European countries and Other. India led the field with 33% of IT executives indicating they have utilized Indian outsourcing resources in the past. Eastern Europe has been the second-most-popular source for offshore resources, with 22% of companies having experience there. China and the South Pacific region placed third and fourth, respectively.

Finding #8 – Eastern Europe will receive the highest consideration in future offshore software development outsourcing engagements. Software development executives were then asked to indicate, using the same list of locations, the countries/regions they would consider when making future offshore outsourcing decisions. Eastern Europe ranked highest among these key offshoring centersf, with 71% of participants indicating they would consider engaging resources based in this region for their future offshore outsourcing needs. India dropped to second place with 67%, followed by China with 43% and the South Pacific region with 37%. Israel and Ireland were the most frequently mentioned countries in the “Other” category, each with 6% of participants giving it future consideration.

Summary

Software development outsourcing has profoundly altered the IT staffing landscape, and most corporations today make at least some use of contract resources for ready access to their high-caliber personnel and for the flexibility they gain through nonpermanent staff. The abundance of well-qualified and highly affordable offshore personnel has opened new doors for IT leaders, but it also raises questions and concerns about their efficacy.

This study has revealed that managers prefer to use employees when possible, believing they offer a greater measure of project control and produce higher quality work than outsourced staff. Firms with larger IT departments rely more heavily on contractors than smaller organizations and, regardless of department size, software development executives are now utilizing more offshore outsourcing personnel than U.S.-based contractors. And irrespective of resource type, the vast majority of managers have been successful orchestrating projects involving personnel based in multiple locations.

Aside from their general bias towards hiring employees whenever possible, participants tend to believe that their specific environment is not very conducive to effective outsourcing. Concerns that their industry, their in-house systems and their development processes were sufficiently unique so as to complicate outsourcing were factors they considered when assessing outsourcing options. Major concerns with overseas contractors included loss of intellectual property and a general skepticism about the technical skills, industry knowledge, and project management controls needed to deliver successful outcomes. While India has historically been the dominant center for accessing affordable offshore IT talent, Eastern European countries have emerged as the leading contender for future offshoring engagements.

With an array of staffing alternatives at their disposal, software development executives must carefully examine their options, giving thoughtful consideration to the pros and cons of each staffing solution, including the relative costs and the short- and long-term strategic implications to their organization. In the decision-making process, IT managers’ personal attitudes, knowledge, beliefs, biases and perceptions play critical roles in establishing the future direction for their organizations. Collectively, the strategies employed by these executives will indelibly shape the future of the global IT industry.