Chris Smith, sales and marketing director of on365, takes a holistic look at the best practice to minimise business continuity risk
Network-Critical Physical Infrastructure (NCPI), the power and cooling, equipment racks, physical structure, security, fire protection, cabling, as well as the management and servicing of these elements, is the key to minimising business continuity risk.
Without an integrated and reliable NCPI, an IT system is vulnerable. This can impede business processes and the ability of employees to efficiently carry out their tasks, weakening business profitability and competitiveness.
Traditional NCPI based on legacy architecture does not facilitate business agility. It is unable to keep up with unpredictable growth in server rooms and Data Centres because of its one-time-engineered and static approach to Data Centres. With multiple vendor components traditional NCPI also increases the total cost of ownership, particularly through expensive service contracts.
Both these factors bring about erratic costs and poor budgeting ability when it comes to the build of an efficient Data Centre. With limited IT budgets and no ability to allocate costs to individual business units, IT departments installing legacy systems try to predict what their NCPI requirements will be ten years from now and spend money on under-utilised systems that do not match current needs thus building a Data Centre with a short life span.
By guessing power and cooling requirements five to ten years in advance and building that capacity today, many organisations end up wasting, energy, capital and operational expenditures on a Data Centre that just will not hold up to future business requirements.
So where do we start?
If we wanted to build a house, we could get all the required items from the local DIY store. But how do they all go together? Will one manufacturer’s radiator valve fit another manufacturer’s radiator? What order does everything get built in? Does one contractor’s warranty become void due to another contractor’s work? The list goes on!
It soon becomes clear that we need a joined up and standardised approach. Standardisation is such a large feature of modern life that we hardly notice it. From watching the TV to replacing a battery, its influence is at work behind the scenes. It makes things more convenient, predictable, affordable, understandable and safe. When we buy a light bulb, we know it will fit in the lamp socket. Our train travel is not interrupted at the border while our carriage is raised up and refitted with different wheels to match the track in the next country. Standardisation is a powerful concept that has established itself as a critical ally in managing progress.
Despite standardisation’s long track record of success in streamlining business, NCPI has missed the turn. A steady trend toward chaos has been at work in this industry but, unlike other industries, there has been no catalyst strong enough to initiate a reversal – nothing as publicly absurd as the switching of train wheels. Systems analysts from any other mature industry would be aghast at the level of complexity and inconsistency that exists today in the NCPI of thousands of Data Centres worldwide.
The job of any infrastructure is to be functional and reliable – it is just supposed to work. The time-tested characteristic that makes infrastructure effective, reliable, predictable, and worry-free is that it is not unique. Because of standardisation, the infrastructure of our day-to-day pursuits has become part of the woodwork – so commonplace and commonsense that we rarely think about it. One would expect data centre infrastructure to follow the same paradigm, but until now there has been little movement in that direction for data centres. Nearly 40 years after its birth, IT physical infrastructure is still, in many ways, a craft industry: with a mish-mash of disparate components from different vendors.
Apart from having no real catalyst for standardisation are there any other reasons for this poor state of our Data Centres?
How about planning?
Planning remains a major challenge for all IT facilities. Data Centre build and upgrade projects are typically planned using methods resembling art more than science, in a process often perceived as intimidating, unstructured and difficult. Plans for data centre needs are poorly communicated among the various business stakeholders within the organisation and take little notice of the principle hierarchy found in any ‘sound foundational design’.
This hierarchy begins with the determination of three fundamental IT parameters that will directly affect the design of the physical infrastructure system:
Criticality – business importance, in terms of tolerance for downtime
Capacity – the IT power and cooling requirement
Growth plan – a prediction of the ramp-up to the maximum power and cooling requirement, frequently subject to a high degree of uncertainty.
The “IT parameters” – criticality, capacity, and growth plan – that begin the physical infrastructure planning sequence are merely a refinement of concepts that will have been addressed, to some degree, during IT and data centre design. In reality, however, there exists no standardised concept or language for these fundamental parameters of IT design, so they need to be clarified and quantified before they can be used to further guide the planning sequence, whether pplanning the installation of a server room or the build of a global national data centre.
So where can we go from here?
Well, a catalyst has finally started bringing in standard products, features and processes. It is cost – or the reduction of it! The IT world is no longer technology-led – a black hole consuming money. It is business-led and, as we know, business wants return on investments. The trends for consolidation, virtualisation and the drive for economies of scale have also had a dramatic impact on the traditional or legacy Data Centre. It now finds itself on the verge of collapse or indeed has fallen under the strain. This is due to our ability to pack more processing power into smaller spaces. The age of the blade server is upon us and it is like placing a ship’s anchor on a sailing dinghy. The physical infrastructures of Data Centres are quickly sinking under the strain. It could be said that the Data Centre is dead – long live the Data Centre!
Most organisations do not have the overall expertise to design and build a Data Centre. Help is required to build a Data Centre and this could include consultants, builders, facility engineers, planners, quantity surveyors, architects – the list goes on. All have their own ideas and agendas. Unfortunately some don’t even realise that the Data Centre world has changed!
on365 is a specialist in the implementation and operation of complete NCPI for business IT and communication systems, and can offer pre-planning advice for new Data Centres, rationalisation plans for existing Data Centres and complete turnkey solutions for most NCPI requirements. on365 utilise design architecture and philosophy based on the following pre-determined business/service level goals: maximum availability, scalability, manageability, fault tolerance, ease of maintenance, minimum mean time to repair. With these parameters clearly defined, on365 can provide a complete, single vendor NCPI solution with all the customer benefits that dealing with just one highly experienced turnkey supplier provides.