The data center landscape is constantly changing, and it’s a series of trials and errors that bring the next great innovation forward. Everyone talks about the great leaps and bounds being made, such as the move towards renewable energy, but what about the failures? Nobody likes to talk about those because they’re often embarrassing, expensive, didn’t work and the people behind these mistakes just want to bury them.
However, like your history teacher said: If you don’t learn from the past, you’re bound to repeat it. Sometimes mistakes are just progresses in the making. One of the biggest gaffes in data center history was high-voltage power tactics. They were all over the place 10-15 years ago. Everyone was changing exterior utility power into DC power with high voltage, the most popular being 380-800 VDC. This led to less cable loss and simpler conversion on racks to DC power. For awhile, this seemed like a fantastic idea—until it all came crashing down.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle with high-voltage was that every single vendor had a unique approach. The options became overwhelming. Suddenly, IT equipment was advancing at lightning speed and the prices of AC/DC supplies were falling. Ultimately, this led to the destruction of value proposition. Plus, it was tough to pinpoint converter designers that could actually make this kind of power into the redundant model needed by the majority of data centers (although it was a good ride for the few designers who could do it).
DC power isn’t totally dead, but it’s in desperate need of a makeover. Today’s solar/wind power options are actually creating DC power that’s renewable. Data centers today need to be close to their generators, and the actual cost of electricity is relatively low for major data centers. However, everyone in the industry was already burned by DC power once, which has them wary of trying it again.
Chilling data centers is a struggle for many, and there have been a plethora of strategies on the chopping block. There has been water pumped directly from frozen water sources. Data centers are popping up in Arctic conditions. The majority of data centers have temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s no surprise that a surfeit of energy is required to keep this cool environment.
While all of the tactics tried often result in cooling, there’s a shift away from “freezing servers.” Today’s servers shouldn’t be seen the same as mainframes. In fact, most are perfectly happy to work at up to 104 degrees F. Some are even flawless at 113 degrees—just make sure those disk drives can also stand the heat. What this means is that unique chilling techniques weren’t necessarily fails, but they simply got outdated. They probably won’t be needed in the near future. Such attempts will only be needed in niche instances, such as military demands, and even then it will probably be with a customized approach.
Fail! What’s the Big Deal?
Just a few years ago, every single unit in the data center was smothering-ly maintained. Failure was a huge deal. If a server failed, drives were immediately pulled and the servers were almost instantly replaced. Thanks to the cloud, it’s no longer an emergency. Virtualization has allowed restarts on another (live) server in case another fails. This lets repairs happen in a more realistic timeframe. It’s also saved a lot of money and effort, since data centers can wait until a few repairs are needed before calling in the troops for maintenance.
It’s relatively costly to replace servers, but scheduling routine maintenance checks where these servers just happen to also be replaced has saved data centers a lot of cash. Unit repair itself isn’t obsolete quite yet, but it will be soon.
Finally, there’s the old idea that you should build server deployments right into racks. Instead, pre-loaded racks (converged infrastructure) that have already been tested and approved have become mainstream. Next up? Data centers that are totally self-contained, or modular data centers, which require cheap facilities. Both “mod pods” and the cloud are manipulating data centers into a brand new entity, and time will only tell what’s dreamt up next.