Data centers are becoming increasingly pervasive in today’s digital age. As businesses and organisations rely more heavily on digital technologies, the demand for data center services is growing rapidly. Unfortunately, with this growth comes a collection of challenges, and there are opportunities for us as a sector to address these challenges better. We still do not look at the data centre as a whole, and there are teams within organisations that still don’t share information or even interact much with one another. This is holding us back from meeting sustainability goals and addressing the increasing challenges effectively. It’s not even a new problem – Ken Brill identified the issue in 2006 – nearly 20 years ago.
“When IT and Facility personnel work closely together to develop realistic strategies to accommodate increasing demands for power and cooling, information availability and uptime can improve significantly.” Ken Brill, Founder, The Uptime Institute, 2006
What if a data centre were an elite athlete?
Athletes often have a team of people looking after them, including coaches, trainers, sports psychologists, sports nutritionists, and medical professionals such as sports doctors and physical therapists. This team works together to support the athlete’s physical and mental well-being, optimise their performance, and help them achieve their goals. A wonderful example of systems thinking.
However, even with a team of experts looking after them, silo thinking can be a challenge. Each member of the team may have their own specialised area of expertise and focus on their own goals, which can lead to a lack of communication and collaboration between different departments. For example, the sports psychologist may be focused on improving the athlete’s mental resilience, while the nutritionist may be focused on optimising their diet for performance. But, without coordination between these two departments, the athlete may not receive the most effective care.
Similarly, with data centres, without the team working collaboratively, there may be ways to increase performance potential. With the increasing capacity being brought online around the world every quarter, we need collaboration in order to be able to address the challenges we face.
The challenges facing data centres today:
- Energy consumption: Data centres consume significant energy to power and cool their equipment. The Paris Climate Agreement demands that we reduce net greenhouse gases by 55% by 2030. We have optimised the buildings to within an inch of their lives. It’s time to look at the IT stack, which is the only reason we have the building!
- Cyber security: With the increasing amount of data being stored and processed in data centers, cybersecurity is a major concern. Data breaches and cyber attacks can result in significant financial, operational and reputational damage. We need a more holistic approach to security in our sector.
- Regulatory compliance: Data centres must comply with a variety of regulations, such as data privacy laws and sustainability regulations. Compliance can be complex and costly, and failure to comply can result in legal and financial penalties or lack of sustainable investment. New IT metrics are part of CSRD reporting, and well as some other building metrics.
- Immersion Cooling: the increasing numbers of HPC, Blockchain, and AI data centers bring the need for liquid cooling. This also allows the waste heat to be more usable. However, implementing this technology can be tricky in a traditionally air-cooled building.
- Alternative Fuel Sources: with increased requirements from grid supplies, data centres are looking to alternative and reliable fuel sources. Battery technology is becoming more affordable, and hydrogen fuel cells are being investigated. Various designs are being explored to make the sector more sustainable against continued significant growth. Software defined power is being spoken of more too.
With all of the above challenges, there is an increased need to innovate and respond in a joined-up manner. As Ken Brill, the founder of the Uptime Institute, stated nearly 20 years ago that IT and Facilities need to be aligned, and it has never been more true than it is today.
Effective collaboration between IT and facilities teams is critical to tackling the sector’s challenges today. By working together, IT and facilities teams can improve uptime, reduce costs, and enhance the overall performance of the data center. This, in turn, can facilitate reduced energy consumption, increased cyber security, reduced costs at scale, and ease compliance with increasing reporting requirements. All this, as well as being better for the planet.
Treat data centres like elite athletes for the benefit of all of us.
If we treat our data centres like elite athletes and pool our expert resources, the planet and everything on it will be better off. Systems thinking is better than silos for all of us.
I’d love to hear from companies where the silo problem doesn’t exist and how you are addressing the challenges of the sector, you can reach me at email@example.com