SNW: Time to transform the data centre?

Increasing complexity, the need for flexibility, and energy concerns are all reasons to take a look at upgrading data centres - and all could bring significant cost savings, said the general manager of HP's Storageworks at SNW USA in Orlando.

"Does anyone here have less complexity than a year ago?" Dave Roberson asked attendees. "If so, congratulations."

"If you think you're not going to have a problem with your data centre, you're wrong," Roberson said.

Citing statistics from a 2006 study by the Data Centre Institute, he said that half of data centres will be significantly changed by 2010, with the pool of qualified staff cut by some 45 per cent. And, over the next five years, power issues will hit 90 per cent of data centres, with a quarter experiencing a disruption serious enough to affect business.

Facing these problems will require an overall transformation of data centres, he said. "Step back and look ahead - the closer you get to a wall, the less you can see."

It's a story dear to HP's corporate heart, and not just because they sell the products. The firm is about 85 per cent through its own data centre transformation, which began some four years ago. So far, 85 data centres have been consolidated into six new ones, based on modular, standardised setups.

The new systems will use 30 per cent fewer servers and 60 per cent less energy, but offer 80 per cent more processing power, largely through the use of virtualisation. The firm will save 50 per cent on networks, but triple their bandwidth. The transformation also allowed HP to retire 60 per cent of their legacy applications and cut floor space by 10 per cent.

And, the ultimate benefit: HP expects to save a billion dollars a year on IT costs at the end of the project. The firm will cut it's investment in IT from four per cent of revenue to just two per cent.

With that in mind, Roberson suggested six key areas of focus for a data centre transformation: standardisation, simplification, consolidation, modularisation, integration and optimising facilities. These concepts will help decrease costs, mitigate risks and accelerate business growth. "Those are three principles that ought to apply for any data centre transformation," Roberson said.

He said any new or upgraded data centre must consider four areas: energy efficiency, "always on" continuity, global/virtual systems, and service oriented.

The first, energy efficiency, offers clear savings. Roberson said that 98.5 per cent of energy is lost between the power source and the chip - with half of it lost after it hits the data centre.

The necessity of always on continuity varies by company, Roberson said, so IT must listen to business needs in order to find the right tier of backup and redundancy and other tools to keep data available, for the right cost.

And, with so many companies global, Roberson stressed that access to data must be standardised, consolidated and virtualised across the company - which helps improve services, as it allows for automation, which in turn helps drive business processes.

But it's not just about storing information, it must be properly used to drive business, a view echoed by analysts at SNW. "It's not just about storage, but how to use information being stored," Roberson said. "Focus on solutions which bridge storage and business intelligence."

And that is the key to transforming a data centre: ensuring the technology serves the business. "Data today is increasingly throughout organisations than it was five years ago," Roberson said. "Data centres need to meet business requirements."