Data centres face age-old challenges

In many ways, we live in a world of micros: microwave ovens, microprocessors, and microseconds. More and more data is continually being packed into smaller and smaller packages and devices.

Ours is a world of big ideas, but when it comes to personal computing, success is often measured by how small the resulting tools are when they hit the market.

Just have a gander at cell phones, personal digital assistants and other handheld gadgets — the more comments to the effect of, “Wow, you can do that on such a small device?”, the more popular and (probably) the more profitable it will ultimately be.

The same inverse paradigm also exists in many areas of the world of enterprise IT. Just ask the manager of any IT storage environment what they probably wish for most and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a reply of “more space!”

Since the first days of computing, the trend in the IT back rooms has been towards making things smaller and reducing the amount of physical space that computers have occupied.

The first large-scale, general-purpose computer — the ENIAC, completed in 1946 and made operational in 1952 — weighed in at a whopping 60,000 pounds and occupied a staggering 1,800 square feet.

Looking at what IT personnel work with today, it’s obvious that the industry has come a long way in realizing its goal. But it still isn’t enough to satisfy the demand for better use of data centre real estate.

That situation is becoming more and more of a concern with the growth of such locations in recent years.

The movement to consolidate large numbers of servers in central settings is creating a two-fold effect. On one hand, creating these clusters allows for easier server management, eliminating the need to move from site to site to manage the data.

On the other hand, however, putting so many server eggs in one basket is causing purely physical challenges, such as dealing with the amount of heat the machines give off, as well as the lighting and power requirements that result from having so many machines packed together in one location.

Ironically, the actual computers have gotten smaller, but many of the same challenges facing data managers today are similar to those that confronted their predecessors more than half a century ago. It’s doubtful that even the ENIAC’s inventors would have foreseen such a situation.

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