Friday, July 28, 2006

Waiting for the next-gen data center

What's the average life expectancy for a data center -- 15 to 20 years? With that in mind, what's the average life expectancy for the IT equipment inside that facility -- four years? Hardware vendors are typically committed to providing server components for five years, but the equipment is worthless for resale after three.

That leaves data center managers planning for hardware requirements that don't even exist yet. A high density rack today might be running over 10kw per cabinet, and likely requires more cooling than a traditional raised floor system can provide. That means you’re probably putting band-aids on the problem, like liquid cooled doors and overhanging apparatuses.

These are likely keeping your servers cooler, but aren't doing anything for your peace of mind or energy bill. And if conventional wisdom on power and cooling trends in the data center are correct, you're going to be dealing with this across the entire facility and not just in a few hot spots.

So what to do? Build a new data center every five years? Maybe. Or you could buy up half the Columbia River valley and build for technologies as needed.

A workable plan I've heard at conferences is to build out a data center modularly, breaking down the traditional 10-20 year planning into five year chunks. Other companies are building out capacity for requirements they don’t even have yet.

Every IT vendor, the biggest companies in the world and the U.S. government seem to be working on the issue -- which is this: traditional data centers will not be able to physically support the increasing demand of enterprise computing. So how long before someone comes up with a solution -- and will it come from better engineering on the facility level or the equipment?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

MySpace data center crash, reportedly the most popular Web site in the U.S. crashed over the weekend due to a power outage and data center failure.

The social networking site blamed the outage on power failures that swept California due to massive energy demand during a record-breaking heat wave. Foster City, Calif.-based data center hosting company Equinix is responsible for at least one of's data centers. The outage has created a lot of commotion in the blog community as people debate the disaster recovery strategy of the busiest site on the Web. probably doesn't have the IT concerns of a major financial institution, but it likely brings in a TON of revenue for its parent company, News Corp. Downtime translates to lost revenues -- and with MySpace's $580 million price tag, revenues are pretty important.

The lesson from all this is that even new-media juggernauts need disaster recovery planning-- so check out our All-in-one guide on data center disaster recovery.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Q&A with Elizabeth Grossman on e-waste

This week, reporter Mark Fontecchio interviewed, Elizabeth Grossman, an Oregon-based author who stumbled upon e-waste in her home town. In her experience as environmental reporter, Grossman started researching pollution on a local river for an environmental group and discovered that e-waste was a big culprit.

She set out on a multiyear journey to figure out what was going on with e-waste. Her result was the book High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, which was released earlier this year from Island Press. caught up with Grossman to ask her a few questions about how her book came to be and the growing issue of e-waste.

Could you explain how you got involved in writing this book?

Elizabeth Grossman: I got interested in this because I was doing some research on pollution in the Willamette River, which flows through Portland, Oregon. What I discovered was that the high tech industry was actually contributing the majority of this pollution. I had not spent any time thinking about high tech at all, I was just completely astonished by this, so I decided I would start poking around and figure out what was going on.

How did you conduct the research?

Grossman: I wanted to look at the scale of the whole life of the manufacturing process. It has to be a worldwide story because it's a global industry. Even if a company is U.S. in origin, has its corporate headquarters in the U.S., there are manufacturing facilities for products all over the world, and they sell into the international market. I did look at things internationally because you have to because this is a global business. A lot of the impetus behind current environmental regulations is coming from Europe and influencing all the companies.

How are regulations like WEEE and ROHS in Europe affecting manufacturers in the U.S.?

Grossman: Most companies are complying with these international directives. It doesn't make financial sense to make a product that you can sell in Copenhagen but can’t sell in New York.

What’s the U.S. doing about e-waste?

Grossman: Right now we have no national legislation governing how high tech electronic components are produced or disposed of. In this country, local governments are responsible for solid waste. There have been dozens of pieces of state legislation governing e-waste, but only a half dozen of them are truly substantive and involve banning things with display screens or, as in the case of Washington and Maine and also Maryland, require producers to be involved in some of the product takeback.

Were the vendors willing to talk to you about e-waste?

Grossman: I was pretty naïve about how forthcoming manufacturers would be. It's just a competitive industry, so proprietary. One of my disappointments was how I wasn’t able to go on site and see what was going on. In the end I was able to talk to everyone I wanted to, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

How good are the vendor takeback programs?

Grossman: They're all fully engaged in making these environmental improvements. All have takeback programs. They’re very controlled about the information they're willing to share.

What do you think about the federal government's response so far?

Grossman: I think they've been extremely slow to act and not anywhere near as aggressive to coming to grips about the exporting of e-waste to developing countries. The attitude is hoping that industry will help solve the problem. I think there is so much stuff that could slip through the cracks that anything that is entirely voluntary probably won’t work.

  • Read Fontecchio's article on data center managers' reaction to the e-waste problem.
  • On a related topic, check out Giles Slade's Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America

  • Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    Server industry silent on e-Waste

    The big four server vendors -- IBM, HP, Sun and Dell -- have all declined to comment on the topic of e-Waste by varying degrees.'s news writer Mark Fontecchio is currently reporting on how data center managers are dealing with the glut of server hardware they are turning over year after year. In the course of his reporting, Fontecchio has repeatedly tried to get the view from the hardware vendors with little success.

  • Sun Microsystems offered a lengthy prepared statement, but was unable to do a Q&A due to scheduling.
  • A non-technical Dell spokesperson offered a 90 second soundbite.
  • IBM refused to comment for "legal reasons".
  • And HP’s representative declined to even return e-mails.

    While all of these companies provide recycling take-back programs, they are not especially interested in dialogue.

    Has recycling server hardware become a larger part of your data center operations? What impact do you see legislation like Europe's WEEE and RoHS Directive having on server manufacturing? Will efforts in the U.S. congress be able to tie individual states' initiatives together under a federal regulation? Please send us your feedback.

    More on e-Waste:
  • HP’s hardware recycling info
  • IBM’s hardware recycling info
  • Sun Microsystems’ recycling info
  • Dell’s hardware recycling info
  • Wikipedia article on e-Waste
  • Wired tackles e-Waste

  • Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    The modern mainframe

    With so much code running on big iron, it's hard to imagine mainframes ever going away. These apps are often business critical, but they could use a facelift. So what's the best option? Hear it from mainframe expert Wayne Kernochan, who addresses this issue in his roadmap to mainframe application modernization.

    Sun x64 server news

    This week Sun Microsystems did a major hardware rollout with a high performance rack server, a return to blade servers and a major storage update. focused on the server end of the Sun annoucnement and covered the Thumper release.

    This marks Sun's first foray back into the blade server space after the product line flopped a few years ago. The company has gained ground on competitors in the x64 space lately according to analysts. Sun offers specs on the new x64 offerings on its Web site.