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Does data centre operational efficiency really matter?Investing in data centre technology can reap benefits for a businessLinus Lee23 July 2012As the role of information technology (IT) expanded over the past decade, data centres were forced to grow up quickly. And in striving to meet the demands of growth, data centres became complex, inefficient, and difficult to manage.When one mentions "efficiency" and data centres in the same breath, most people automatically think "green". But to a CIO (chief information officer) or IT leader, it means so much more. Operational efficiency is critical in every aspect of a data centre from the design to the operations of the technology and processes within it.When the right technologies are applied to build a highly optimised infrastructure, the data centre becomes a vehicle for innovation and opportunity. For decades, IT leaders have been applying standard optimisation methods in an effort to get more out of their data centres, but the basics are not enough in today's digitally on-demand world.People, businesses, and governments expect more out of their technology from hand-held smartphones to systems in a data centre. Use of all types of technology is dramatically increasing.In this new era, CIOs are leveraging technologies such as social media, big data, cloud, and mobile computing to conduct business in better, faster, and smarter ways. Some examples are the transformation of core banking and payment systems, provision of more services to citizens or implementation of smart grids. So where do companies stand in the journey to an efficient data centre today? To find out, IBM worked with research agency IDC to survey close to 500 global IT leaders to gauge their efficiency, including 180 companies in six Asean countries.The survey looked at key measurements including facility operations and management, systems, storage, network, applications, businesses drivers, budget, and governance.It found that only one in five, or 21 per cent, of companies surveyed are operating data centres at the highest level of efficiency. In Asean, the number is even lower with just one in 10, or 10 per cent, operating at the most strategic level. Singapore respondents fared better with close to 39 per cent ranked as "strategic". Those IT leaders who received an "A" on their data centre report card are reaping the benefits that efficiency brings to the business.These Asean companies with "strategic" data centres currently spend about 50 per cent more of their total IT budget on new projects and innovation than on maintaining their current environment.Comparatively, companies with what we termed "basic" data centres, or those that are the least efficient, spend only 39 per cent on new projects. Think how those additional budgets could help fuel business innovation!It's all about delivering efficiencies. "Strategic" data centres in Asean have almost three times as many servers managed by a single person compared to the least efficient. They also have around 40 per cent server virtualisation compared to less than 9 per cent for the least efficient. Also, 59 per cent of the least efficient data centres also use no form of storage optimisation tool and this is alarming considering forecasts that 90 per cent of organisations will be analysing some form of "big data" - be they social media feeds, geo-spatial data, and weblogs.So who's getting high marks in optimisation? An example in Singapore would be Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Previously, many of the divisions and colleges at NTU purchased their own compute clusters, which resulted in a disparate hardware environment on campus. With no clear strategy to implement a consolidated compute resource for all its colleges to conduct research, the university was consistently providing funds to the divisions and colleges to make individual IT equipment purchases every year.
NTU decided to consolidate their existing data centres, formalise a strategy for their IT environment, and set up a world-class high performance computing cluster and reliable storage platform for a supercomputer on campus.The result? NTU was able to put a lid on the ballooning cost of their data centre with the right strategy of maximising optimisation and a flexible green data centre design that significantly reduced power consumption.This will help NTU make inroads into the study of global climate change and understand the biological systems and physics of complex socioeconomic systems, among others. On the other hand, less efficient data centres are at a crossroads where they must determine if they'll take the next step towards modernisation or operate at their current status.Today, they lack an overall strategic plan to optimise their data centre and create opportunity to invest in new projects. How do you stack up against the 21 per cent? We took a look at the top performing data centres and identified the key characteristics that enabled those companies to be more efficient than others. Here are four tips to a smarter data centre:• Optimise your current server, storage, network, and facilities assets to maximise capacity and availability;• Design for flexibility and increased resiliency to support changing business needs such as new regulations, security threats, and service outages;• Introduce higher levels of automation to improve service levels and availability. Less manual manipulation means faster response times; and• Have a plan that looks beyond IT - including facility management and power consumption - that is aligned with business goals and keep it current.These actions enable businesses to spend less on maintenance of their current infrastructure and free up budget for innovation. IBM has applied these concepts to its own data centres over the past two decades and is continually innovating. IBM has been able to invest in innovation to enhance our own organisation as well as the businesses and governments we work with around the globe.The author is data centre principal, strategy and operations, Asia-Pacific Centre of Excellence, IBM Data Centre Services
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