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Data Center Designers In High Demand 140

Posted by timothy
from the blinky-blue-is-the-new-dull-amber dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "For years, data center designers have toiled in obscurity in the engine rooms of the digital economy, amid the racks of servers and storage devices that power everything from online videos to corporate e-mail systems but now people with the skills to design, build and run a data center that does not endanger the power grid are suddenly in demand. 'The data center energy problem is growing fast, and it has an economic importance that far outweighs the electricity use,' said Jonathan G. Koomey of Stanford University. 'So that explains why these data center people, who haven't gotten a lot of glory in their careers, are in the spotlight now.' The pace of the data center build-up is the result of the surging use of servers, which in the United States rose to 11.8 million in 2007, from 2.6 million a decade earlier. 'For years and years, the attitude was just buy it, install it and don't worry about it,' says Vernon Turner, an analyst for IDC. 'That led to all sorts of inefficiencies. Now, we're paying for that behavior.'" On a related note, an anonymous reader contributes this link to an interesting look at how a data center gets built.
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Data Center Designers In High Demand

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:08AM (#23822737)

    Does anyone else think this number is low?
    It is low. The whole article is basically saying data center growth has been bottle-necked by the need for certain types of engineers and administrators.

    That's probably part of the demand for the "data center in a box" concept. With a shortage of engineers to design centers it's an obvious move to try and start mass manufacturing them.
  • Amen (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:10AM (#23822767)
    The only "glory" we'd receive in the data center is when something goes wrong. That is the only time we ever got noticed.

    Only now they want people like myself? Screw that. I gave up on that long ago when it was a dead end.
  • by samkass (174571) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:15AM (#23822819) Homepage Journal
    How many letters have you written to your congressman advocating that the government build a coal plant on your block? That's the fuel that America has the most of.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:18AM (#23822879)
    A designer needs to understand how cooling, power and building design affect each other. High density cooling and power management is a different beast. (And disaster management! Redundant power, fire suppression that won't destroy your computers, etc...)

    I think that is the point here: Data centers have become large enough that you don't want to just stuff them into a random office building and hope everything will work out fine. Specialization is valuable in this case.
  • by binaryspiral (784263) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:24AM (#23822947)
    Companies with full data centers and in need of more servers are turning to virtualization technologies to increase their server density, reduce their physical server deployment, and improve efficiency in cooling, hardware maintenance, and administration.

    It's amazing to see the differences VMware has made in my career in just a few short years... going from deploying hardware servers in weeks to a virtual in seconds.
  • by Kohath (38547) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:29AM (#23823001)
    There's already one a short distance from my house, thanks. They are trying to build more in the region (a long way away from everyone's house), but the environmentalists won't allow it.
  • by outcast36 (696132) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:40AM (#23823131) Homepage
    yes and no.

    I've seen companies that turned to virtualization to solve their power and cooling problems. Yes, you can serve more OS instances with less hardware. That is good.

    However, these places are generally not managing their infrastructure well in the first place. Now you start running into problems with server sprawl and storage management. The management costs are going up because you have more servers running more applications. That takes more management, not less.

    I think it is great that we are seeing more specialization in this space. I think that SysAdmins need to look at how they want to specialize moving forward. Are you going to manage hardware & resources? Are you going to be more OS and application tuning? We can't expect one person to have enough breadth to go from HVAC/electric/network/storage/OS/application. I'd hate to see a tape ape get into Data Center design because "hey they're down in the Data Center anyway"

    Don't get me wrong, I think virtualization (server & application & desktop) is the wave of the future. But I don't think a lot of firms see this yet. I think they are still trading one problem for another.

  • by postbigbang (761081) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:45AM (#23823189)
    Yeah, except that mass-manufacturing data centers is like designing a 1999 Mazda or a 1956 Jaguar. There are so many factors that are changing regarding how data centers go together, that it's a moving target to get long-lasting designs. In the bad old days, you could get a 20 year life from a data center, and not a lot changed, year to year.

    Now data centers can have lots of change-- as the servers themselves change along with equipment that's located in a data center. The -48vdc telephony equipment is now housed there, along with blade server chassis that breathe fire and suck power like an SUV-- let alone the heat generation problems.

    Add in mandates of 5-9's availability (a new concept in the computer industry), earthquake, hurricane/tornado/flooding, power grid availability, the liablities of co-los, legal mandates and constraints, and data center design has become a discipline unto itself. It's not necessarily constrained by good personnel, rather it's constrained by the huge number of changes in the industry overall, and the numerous disciplines needed to bring asset life out of a data center investment.
  • by bsDaemon (87307) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:49AM (#23823255)
    No, it doesn't generate power -- but it prevents me from needing as much. The less I need, the more I can make myself. If I can cut my use from say, 200Mega Watts to 800Kilo Watts by proper deployment of insulation, energy star appliances, replacing a desktop PC with a Pico-ITX system, etc -- then if I can generate half what I need with solar panels or a wind mill (if I live in an area where I can fit one), then I'd no longer be that big of a draw on the grid, would I?

    Of course, those numbers are all just pulled out of my ass for an example, but still -- you get the point. Cost saving measures at home are also going to lead to energy savings at large. With power prices going up ~30% next month, I think more people will start looking at the alternatives and where they can cut costs.

    I agree that things need to be done on the supply side as well, but they should be done in a responsible manner. Building more nuclear plants, for instance. But by reducing consumption, we can then close down fossil plants instead of doing a 1:1 replacement.
  • by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @10:54AM (#23823327)
    You hear a lot about the big datacentres that are being planned by the likes of Google, Yahoo etc. I realize this is probably an over simpification but it seems like they know ahead of time what the systems will be for the datacentre. They seem to know the apps they will run, the servers they like etc.

    While I admit that these datacentres are huge and get a lot of publicity, thus a lot of pressure to design right and "green" I don't think that level of advanced knowledge is typical for SMBs and even most non-IT centric businesses regardless of size.

    In practice a company has a few servers and one or two system admins, then they grow, staff leaves, they start thinking about different technologies, required software changes etc. What they end up with is a few vendors servers, a few vendors disk arrays probably a few flavors of networking etc.

    In short the "real world" problem for the majority of companies/sys-admins isn't the very academic concept of building a single purpose datacentre, but handling growth and change. I'm yet to see a good reference for how to handle this. At best I see vendors showing how great there new server/rack combination is in isolation, Another popular thing is the ever popular look how low our power needs per FLOP are for a data centre based on our products. Yeah like we are likely to use identical systems for databases as we do for LDAP, and the same one for a fileserver as we use for a MPI cluster.

    Anyways, does anyone know a good reference to deal with these "real world" problems?

  • by Sobrique (543255) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:00AM (#23823415) Homepage
    Virtualisation is a way of managing capacity and demand. It is not an either/or case with 'real iron', it's just a different way of considering the problem domain.
  • by miller60 (554835) * on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:05AM (#23823473) Homepage
    Here's an interesting related issue: how many people does it take to operate a data center? Google always says that it will create 200 full-time positions at each of its new data centers. But an analysis of data center staffing [datacenterknowledge.com] for new Yahoo and Microsoft facilities in Washington State suggests that these companies can run a data center with 30 to 50 staffers.


    Data center employment often comes up in discussions of economic development. Many communities are eager to attract data center projects, but struggle to define the economic benefits of these facilities. Jobs have always been the primary benchmark by which economic development projects are measured. Incentive packages offered by state and local governments are often based on the number of full-time jobs created by a new business. And do data centers really hire locally, or do trained data center engineers migrate from other existing data center hubs? In some cases, local officials try to stipulate local hires, which is a sticky wicket.

  • by notdotcom.com (1021409) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:14AM (#23823597)
    Ok, here's how it's going to work out...

    We can send people to college and have them study things like thermodynamics, the flow of air and water in a system, physics, electricity, scale, and perhaps even a little economics. (Things that would be useful for data center design) ...we will call them "ENGINEERS"

    And here's the real kicker: They can APPLY what they have learned in classrooms and labs to actual mechanical and electrical systems in a datacenter!

    Wow, that was rough sailing for a while there.

    Note, however, that this does not solve the problem of nobody wanting to PAY these "engineers" a real salary to build out their $50 million data-center.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:16AM (#23823613)
    It's like asking a hungry person to cut back on his food intake just a little more to share with the other hungry people in his family or village.

    No, energy efficiency is like getting a well fed person, who currently throws away 30% of their food because it goes bad before they eat it, to do a bit more planning and a bit less impulse buying so they reduce their wastage to (say) 10% or less and save themselves significant money for a very small effort, and do their bit for the environment as a side effect.
  • It's the NIMBYs. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @11:52AM (#23824181)

    They are trying to build more in the region (a long way away from everyone's house), but the environmentalists won't allow it.

    Nope. It's the NIMBYs because they're afraid that their home values will go down. They just get the environmentalists on board for the free legal help and credibility.

  • IT = Volatile (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @12:51PM (#23825131) Homepage Journal
    One thing I've learned from my 20-odd years of experience is that a career in IT is volatile. Your specialty will go up and down in value over the years as globalization, fads, and technology changes ebb and flow.

    The problem is that if you have a family, such volatility can be problematic. Possible solutions are to save during the good times (nearly impossible if you are married), or be a generalist, such as the only IT person at a small company or department. Generalists tend not to be paid well, but they do seem to weather downturns or paradigm changes better. It's a trade-off.
         
  • by bryce4president (1247134) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @01:20PM (#23825867)
    I don't get it. Besides "think of the Polar Bears", I can't see why we don't just move all our data centers to the arctic. We can pump oil right out of the ground and burn it for the electricity needed to power the units. We don't need AC just some air pumps to push the cold air through the building. That solves two problems right there.

    1)We can now pump oil out of the national reserves in Alaska
    2)We don't have to work very hard to cool the data centers.

    Win Win if you ask me ;)
  • by Alpha830RulZ (939527) on Tuesday June 17, 2008 @01:32PM (#23826171)
    And do data centers really hire locally, or do trained data center engineers migrate from other existing data center hubs? In some cases, local officials try to stipulate local hires, which is a sticky wicket

    When Google plants a data center in The Dalles, OR, and MSFT plants one in Moses Lake, WA, I guarantee you that most of the hires aren't local. Initially. They just plain don't exist there.

    As far as the local economy goes, though, even if every hire comes in from out of the area, it's likely to be good for the local economy. People need to live somewhere, buy groceries from somewhere, etc. Their kids need to go to school, and educated parents are always a good force for the schools. The tax base goes up, etc.

    Local officials can try to mandate local hires all they want, but before Google came to the Dalles, I'll bet there weren't a lot of Linux systems engineers there.

    For the non-northwesterners, The Dalles is a town of about 15,000 people, about 100 miles east of Portland, where Google is constructing a new data center. It was mostly a farming and logging community before.

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