Communism in the datacentre: a cautionary tale

Many datacentres are grey gulags, colder and bleaker than Siberia. But that’s not where the similarity with the Soviet Union ends, says Nick Booth

Cloud computing and virtualisation should be the embodiment of the benefits of free trade; a perfect synergy of internal market information and agile assets that can move anywhere in the world in response to the ebb and flow of supply and demand.

So you would expect that the datacentres which house all this technology would always give the best possible value for money. You’d be wrong, of course, because the funny thing is, inside many datacentres, the internal market for resources is like the Soviet economy circa 1950. As a result, many users are making disastrous, expensive mistakes.

“The assets of a datacentre have long been managed in the style of a planned economy,” says Liam Newcombe, chief technology officer for management vendor Romonet.

It is impossible for any manager to assign the costs of any project, because there is insufficient information about how it uses the resources of a datacentre. “What stops person doing activity-based costing is that it’s too hard,” says Newcombe.

So, in a company running enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, they can quantify every activity that any department is involved in. They can see what resources a marketing campaign took up, or a legal action, or even a project to find out which country might be best for their new datacentre.

But the one place they can’t actually quantify is the datacentre itself. This is because nobody understands how much everything costs, since all the halls and the racks and servers and software just run and nobody knows which system uses which resources and in what quantity. Not even the ERP system, ironically enough.

So nobody knows whether it would be cost effective, or more environmentally friendly, to move from North London to Norway, because they have no idea how much of a legacy they are chucking away by ditching their old equipment. The fact that the equipment has been written off the books doesn’t mean it can’t still be used. It may not be as efficient to use as modern kit, but the mere act of migration negates all the savings. Although that information isn’t available, so many companies will make disastrous mistakes in the years to come.

“The power usage efficient confuses people and it should be ignored in many cases. Sometimes, analysis shows that you are better off in an old site with old equipment in Missouri than in a new site, with new equipment with sky high rents in Manhattan,” says Newcombe.

Romonet says it provides the information systems that can quantify all the resources of a datacentre and their usage. The idea is to give the datacentre a fully efficient internal market of resources.

Datacentre managers are sometimes like those people who travel to find themselves. The answer is right there in front of them, if they only knew where to look. They could save a lot of money by being more introspective.

That would give them something to write home about.

This was last published in July 2013

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