New power generation
Written by Nick Martindale
Experts predict a new cycle of innovation in technology. Nick Martindale investigates how this step change might affect power management and continuity and looks at what new solutions may be expected to follow
The economic recession interrupted a period of frenetic innovation from IT companies and a willingness to embrace new technologies such as virtualisation, more efficient processing power and lower-energy products on behalf of business customers.
With the worst of the downturn seemingly behind us, it stands to reason that such developments will once again return to the fore, albeit in a slightly more restrained environment than the one we left behind almost three years ago.
In the power management and business continuity sectors, activity is already picking up. "If the growth curve goes back to the near-exponential rate it was experiencing prior to the downturn we can anticipate more activity in the data centre build-and-refit market," says Peter Hannaford, vice-president, data centres and alliances, EMEA, at APC by Schneider Electric. "Likewise, as the fortunes of server manufacturers recover, we could anticipate an increased focus on innovation to drive a new cycle."
Hannaford believes the development of more efficient IT and server solutions will accelerate the development of a new era of data centres, which can no longer be viewed simply as a collection of disparate devices. "The hardware and software resources in these facilities must work efficiently together to deliver unparalleled levels of availability and performance, which will require a holistic approach to their design and deployment," he says. "That means a mindset change for CIOs and data centre managers."
On the customer side, one impact of a new wave of innovation may be that there is less of a divide between IT and facilities, since the successful introduction of new user services will be entirely dependent upon the operation of a complete and unified system. "We anticipate that customers will start to specify solutions rather than products," he says. Vendors, meanwhile, may adopt a building block or appliance approach, deploying infrastructure and IT services out of the box.
Monitoring and remote interaction devices that allow companies to check the power status of their recovery centres are likely to become more commonplace in the future, as organisations seek to incorporate such information into their own building management systems and demonstrate levels of availability in new business pitches, suggests Mike Osborne, managing director at ICM Business Continuity Services.
"You're looking at devices that can give you that output and control but ultimately that will lead to portal-type approaches which will allow visibility and historical reporting analysis and also the interaction with those devices," he says.
The ability to constantly track uptime - often through systems more commonly used in industrial plant control centres - puts pressure on organisations to ensure data centres are functioning effectively, says Justin Lowe, managing consultant in PA Consulting's global energy practice. "People tend to think they can move all their data and applications into a data centre and then just forget about it but there's a huge job in maintaining that going forward, keeping the equipment up to date from a reliability and efficiency point of view," he says.
The continued pressure on organisations to reduce their energy consumption - due to the likelihood of higher costs and the impact of the Carbon Reduction Commitment, which comes into force in 2010 - has also created pressure for devices that can accurately monitor power usage and lower-energy products.
"Organisations want to have live feeds from their data centre racks that demonstrate the power into the rack, the power consumption by the units, the output, checks on the UPS status and even the live incoming feed at generator status," says ICM's Osborne. "Analysis of the information will let businesses identify trends in their energy use: areas of good and bad performance; where they can make improvements; and the capital cost of these," adds Dave Lewis, head of business energy services at npower. "We're already developing technology which does this, which is becoming more intelligent in how it analyses data."
A greater focus on the energy usage of equipment is also likely to lead to inefficient servers and infrastructures being replaced sooner than may previously have been the case, says Lowe at PA Consulting. It could also see companies installing their own forms of power such as solar panels or wind turbines in data centres, which could cause continuity issues due to variability of supply, he adds.
Virtualisation is another area that is likely to pick up once organisations start to revisit IT projects that may have been put on hold during the downturn, and this too brings with it challenges from an energy-efficiency standpoint. "With virtualisation you're delivering the same computing power on fewer physical boxes but those boxes themselves are more powerful than the ones they replace," points out Osborne. "Providers of hardware will concentrate on making those more power-efficient. We've had this early uptake of virtualisation with lots of power and cooling-hungry processes being developed and there's now been a bit of a backlash against that. It's difficult to cool them physically in a classic data centre environment and the cost of power is significant."
Hannaford agrees this is likely to have an impact on the industry. "Data centre virtualisation may fundamentally change the way that facilities are designed and we may see the end of highly resilient tier IV data centres, as they make way for a greater number of lower tier centres operated in a grid-style architecture to ensure availability," he says.
The UPS market is also looking to innovate as it seeks to meet the evolving needs of both data centre providers and end-customers, says Robin Koffler, general manager at Riello UPS. "Research and development is driven by three factors: operating efficiency, system resilience and consumables management," he says. "All three affect the ability of a UPS system to perform and impact on its operating environment. Raising operating efficiencies has been the biggest challenge faced by UPS manufacturers and most manufacturers can now deliver efficiencies of 97 per cent or greater."
Vendors may have to react to the pressure to innovate in the face of rising expectations from customers in other ways than through the release of new products. Hannaford suggests there could be a rise in collaboration and partnerships, as has already been seen in the development of organisations such as the Green Grid and in the co-operation with legislative bodies to produce the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centre Efficiency. "With the need for greater integration we could see IT, infrastructure or software businesses becoming more acquisitive as they seek to bring together the diverse skills and product solution sets required to meet customer expectations," he adds. "You never know, but with Cisco now manufacturing servers, Oracle owning Sun and both HP and IBM with strong data centre services capability, it's not too much of a leap of the imagination."
THINKPIECE: SMART MOVE OR SECURITY THREAT?
The development of a smart electricity grid in the UK over the next decade will bring about fundamental changes to the way in which businesses use power.
The two-way system will allow organisations to monitor energy consumption and make decisions about how and when they use power.
"Energy use is now not only related to cost but also to regulatory, environmental, operational and reputational considerations and businesses are calling for ways in which to manage these multiple demands," says Dave Lewis, head of business energy services at npower. "This is acting as a catalyst for innovation in power management as old methods of managing energy use no longer meet current demands."
This is likely to result in the emergence of a new breed of organisation that specialises in monitoring and optimising power consumption and generation, says Justin Lowe, managing consultant in PA Consulting's global energy practice. But while this will give organisations the opportunity to become more energy-efficient, such remote connectivity could also create security vulnerabilities that may impact on business continuity, he warns.