Yesterday I had a tour of Canberra Data Centres new facility in Canberra. This is a commercial data center set up to host government and non-government computer systems. It is located in a converted warehouse in an industrial park. Apart from the emphasis on green computing and security, what is most impressive about this facility is that it is open for business and is servicing clients already, unlike proposals such as that for Canberra Technology City (CTC) .
The facility uses APC’s "Hot Aisle" system. Two rows of computer racks are placed back to back with a polycarbonate roof and doors at either end enclosing the hot air. Coolers are placed at intervals in the racks, drawing the hot air, cooling it and supply it to the front of the racks. The coolers are supplied with chilled water from a central plant. The result is that the cooling is supplied to where it is needed, making the system more efficient and more flexible.
The APC system has all power, data and the cooling supplied from above. There is no need for a false floor. Pods can be devoted to a particular client and even isolated with a wall where security requires. Smaller clients rent racks in a shared pod.
The central chiller plant has multiple units and an insulated tank to hold a supply of cold water. This allows the load on the chillers to be balanced and a backup supply of chilled water if the units have to be shut down (or mains power is lost).
The APC pods have battery backup, to keep servers running until the multiple diesel generators start to supply power. But this full backup power is expensive. I suggested to CDC that there would be scope for using the resiliency features of the web and the power saving of modern servers to provide clients with a lower cost option. Web servers could be programmed to reduce their power use during a mains failure, by lowering their serving rate. The customers using this option could be charged a lower rental rate, as they would be making less use of the backup power. Those customers with an alternate server at another location could rely on that server taking the load. Otherwise, a well designed web application would automatically provide the essential information (such as the text) and delay delivering non-essential information (such as graphics).
The CDC facility provides an alternative to companies and government agencies building their own facilities. All but the largest agencies would have difficulty meeting the stringent requirements for such facilities and the increasingly stringent additional environmental requirements. The power to the CDC's pods is separately metered, allowing the customers to each be charged for electricity used (as well as for cooling). This would assist with carbon emission reporting and also to show the power savings.
Government agencies can rationalise their computing equipment by placing it in such a facility. But it would be unfortunate of they simply took a lot of old inefficient equipment and put it in a new centre. Agencies need to look at rationalising the number of servers they use and the efficiency of their existing equipment.
A more difficult task would then be for the Government to rationalise IT use between agencies. There seems no good reason why dozens of agencies run their own web servers, records management, financial and human resource systems. As these systems become server applications with web interfaces and with web user interfaces, there is increased scope for rationalisation. If government systems were rationalised in this way only a few data centres the size of the CDC facility would be needed to service all of the federal government's requirements.
It happens that shortly after my posing, the Australian Government CIO, Ann Steward, said much the same thing about the use of data centers: "CeBIT09: Federal CIO rules out super data centre", By Brett Winterford, iTnews, 13 May 2009 10:15AM.
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