Data Centers: Part of the Cost Puzzle

August 11, 2008

The “commentary” is “Servers: Why thrifty Isn’t Nifty” which appears here. The “commentary” is by a wizard, Kenneth G. Brill, and he takes a strong stand on the topic of data center costs. The “commentary” is sponsored by SAP, an outfit that exercises servers to the max. Mr. Brill is the executive director of the highly regarded Uptime Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe is a high-tech haven. The Santa Fe Institute and numerous think tanks populate this city, a reasonable drive from LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory). LANL is world famous for its security as you may know. With chaos theory and technical Jedis in every nook and cranny of the city except the art galleries, I am most respectful of ideas from that fair city’s intelligentsia.

The hook for the “commentary” is a report called Revolutionizing Data Center Efficiency. The guts of the report are recommendations to chief information officers about data centers. With the shift to cloud computing, data centers are hotter than a Project Runway winner’s little black dress. For me the most interesting part of this “commentary” was this statement:

One of these recommendations is to dramatically improve cost knowledge within IT…The facility investment required to merely plug-in the blades was an unplanned $54 million. An additional unplanned $30 million was required to run the blades over three years. So what appeared to be a $22 million decision was really an enterprise decision of over $106 million.

The “commentary” includes a table with data that backs up his analysis. The data are useful but as you will learn at the foot of this essay, offer only a partial glimpse of a more significant cost issue. You may want to read my modest essay about cost here.

What baffles me is the headline “Servers: Why Thrifty Isn’t Nifty”. Forbes’s editors are more in the know about language that I. I’m not sure about the use of the word thrifty because the “commentary” uses servers as an example of the cost analysis problem facing organizations when folks make assumptions without experience, adequate accounting methods, and a rat pack of 25 year old MBAs calculating costs.

Let me make this simple: cost estimations usually have little connection to the actual expenditures required to make a data center work. This applies to the data centers themselves, applications, or the add ons that organizations layer on their information technology infrastructure.

Poor cost analysis can sink the ship.

Mr. Brill has done a fine job of pointing out one cost hockey stick curve. There are others. Until folks like the sponsors of Mr. Brill’s “commentary” spell out what’s needed to run bloated and inefficient enterprise applications, cost overruns will remain standard operating procedure in organizations.

Before I close this encomium to Santa Fe thinking, may I point out:

  • Engineering data centers is not trivial
  • Traditional methods don’t work particularly well nor economically in the world of multi core servers and peta-scale storage devices stuffed into poor engineered facilities
  • Buying high end equipment increases costs because when one of those exotic gizmos dies, it is often tough to get a replacement or a fix quickly. The better approach is to view hardware like disposable napkins?

Which is better?

[a] Dirt cheap hardware that delivers 4X to 15X the performance of exotic name brand servers or [b]  really expensive hardware that both fails and runs slowly at an extremely high price? If you picked the disposable napkin approach, you are on the right track. Better engineering can do more than reduce the need for expensive, high end data center gear. By moving routine tasks to the operating system, other savings can be found. Re engineering cooling mechanisms can extend drive and power supply life and reduce power demands. There are other engineering options to exercise. Throwing money at a problem works if the money is “smart”. Stupid money just creates more overruns.

Mr. Brill’s “commentary” provides one view of data center costs, but I trust that he has the brand name versus generic costing in the report he references. If not, there’s always an opportunity in Santa Fe for opening an art gallery or joining LANL’s security team.

Stephen Arnold, August 11, 2008

Stephen Arnold, August 11, 2008


3 Responses to “Data Centers: Part of the Cost Puzzle”

  1. Data Centers: Part of the Cost Puzzle | Easycoded on August 11th, 2008 7:24 am

    […] August 11, 2008 ScottGu […]

  2. Cahya on August 11th, 2008 8:33 am

    Interesting article.

  3. Home Security : on October 26th, 2010 1:46 am

    i love to visit art galleries both home and abroad, art has been my life*`’

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