Sun wants to build your data centre

Sun Microsystems Inc. is offering its expertise in green data centre design and construction for sale to enterprise class customers. The only problem, according to one Gartner Inc. analyst, is the IT services giant might be a bit late to the game.

Last year, in its own efforts to reduce costs as well as its carbon footprint, Sun unveiled a trio of its “next-generation” data centres. With these newly designed data centres — open in Blackwater, U.K., Bangalore, India, and Santa Clara, Calif. — Sun knew its best practices in design and hardware consolidation would serve as a blueprint for the redesign initiatives of other enterprise data centres.

The company has been acting as a design and strategy consultant on customer data centre projects over the last 12 months, but is now expanding its professional services to actually building data centres.

“We didn’t build data centres before,” John Jackson, director of the data centre efficiency practice at Sun, said. “Now, we’ll actually be the prime contractor and manage the entire build of the data centre, from site selection to architectural selection review process and even to program management of construction.”

Sun built its own data centre with modularity and flexibility in mind, Jackson said. Under its new suite of professional services, the company will retrofit data centres to meet minimum power and efficiency needs, maximize space utilization and cut down on operating costs.

“You build a building, call it a data centre, and start stuffing it with servers — pretty soon you’re going to create this thing called server sprawl,” Johnson said.

In order to leave more space for expansion and help future-proof your data centre, Sun is stressing a concept that consolidates server racks, cooling fans and cables into high-density pods.

On the cabling side of things, having 300 cables per 40-system rack means thousands of cables are housed in every pod. Instead of going to a patch panel or back to the main distribution frame, all the cables can be collapsed into an intermediate distribution frame and consolidated down to just a few cables coming out of each pod.

And to further emphasize the “plug-and-play” style of the pods, the power comes from an overhead system equipped with modules that allow enterprises to snap in or snap out power capabilities when needed. Each pod also features in-row units that automatically detect the temperature within the pods and speed up or slow down the fans as necessary. This allows for closely coupled cooling and a significant decrease in overall costs.

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“We’ve seen customers just flat run out of floor space because of how they architect their data centres,” Jackson said. “Because of where they’re placing their computers on their raised floors, they can no longer support the airflow requirements that are needed for their systems.”

On the software side, Jackson said Sun’s xVM virtualization software can help in boosting system utilization, decreasing power and cooling costs, and simplifying data centre management techniques.

And while it appears that Sun has all the bases covered from a software, hardware and philosophical standpoint, U.K.-based Gartner server and storage analyst Rakesh Kumar remains unconvinced.

“Sun is playing catch-up in this space,” he said. “They are in a market where many companies already offer similar services in design, strategy and build. They will gain some traction in their install base, but I don’t think they’re going to make a significant difference in the market.

“They obviously have a strong eco message, but so does everybody else,” he added.

One of the things enterprises should keep in mind when considering a data centre redesign or rebuild, Kumar said, is both the reference customers and partners that the vendor has to offer. As a relatively new kid on the block, Sun is going to struggle with those requirements, he argued.

“One of the issues with new data centre designs is that it involves a lot of collaboration with people who haven’t traditionally been in the data centre space,” Kumar said. “That includes air conditioning suppliers, building management system suppliers, rack providers and so forth. Sun perhaps doesn’t have the same level of relationships that the bigger players like HP or IBM Global Services do.”

Jackson countered this argument by citing Sun’s expanded partnership with data centre power and cooling services provider American Power Conversion Corp. (APC), among other partners.

“We offer a unique set of products and services that get you toward the right architecture, and APC can help you improve your power efficiency and cooling needs,” he said.

Kumar did, however, recommend that interested enterprises do their due diligence and at least consider Sun before launching their projects. He added that the timing for Sun’s professional services launch makes a lot of sense for the company, as most enterprises are beginning to realize they have significant problem with data centre floor space and energy costs.

According to a Gartner report earlier this week, enterprises are at risk of doubling their data centre energy costs between 2005 and 2011 with the onset of new high density and power hungry server equipment.

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