Kevin Vesely – Analyst, Forsythe Data Centers, says:

Data center operators used to think floor space was the main factor in designing a new facility.

But this thinking is flawed. Power density is quickly replacing size as the key issue in data centers.

More than two decades ago, most data centers were designed with fewer than 100 W per square foot and sometimes even as low as 40 to 60 W per square foot. Over the past 10 years, data center design density has increased to 100 to 150 W per square foot and/or fewer than 5kW per cabinet. The recent proliferation of virtualization and cloud implementation has accelerated a move toward even higher density environments.

These new technologies demand higher kW per cabinet densities that aging data center facilities simply cannot accommodate. When considering building a new facility or sourcing a new data center provider, owners and operators would be wise to consider smaller, high-density environments over larger, low-density environments.

Building or leasing a high-density environment allows owners and operators to support the latest IT equipment while also saving a significant amount of money.

Capital Cost Savings

The age old question when building a data center is:

How much space do we need to accommodate current needs and future growth?

Space is only part of the story. Power and cooling densities are actually much more important than square footage.

IT architectures focused on cloud and software-defined logical workflow require facility designers and operators to think differently about the data center. Companies that decide to build or lease a facility capable of 10kW per cabinet or higher can see significant savings both in capital and operational costs. High-density data centers are often half the size (or less) of a low-density data center that supports the same compute power.

There are other benefits: A smaller, high-density facility requires fewer IT cabinets; fewer rack power distribution units (PDUs); smaller fire detection and suppression systems; shorter telecommunications run lengths; and shorter electrical power feeders.

Companies see even greater savings when they can purchase a smaller plot of land to house the new data center. (One caveat: Electrical and mechanical system components are incrementally more expensive in a high-density environment.)

On the leasing side, most colocation providers give clients a predetermined amount of power to use within their cage or pod, usually around 3 to 5kW per cabinet. As a result, clients must lease more floor space to increase power capacity. This model makes it virtually impossible for clients to maximize the vertical “U” space within their cabinets.

Fortunately, several new colocation players can support higher power densities. When exploring new colocation vendors, clients should always consider power density as an important factor.

Operational Cost Savings

In addition to the upfront savings associated with a high-density environment, the operational side also offers significant savings. High-density environments generally function much more efficiently than large, low-density environments.

In a smaller, high-density environment, air distributes more consistently, and cooling units can more effectively match cooling to IT load. High-density environments also tend to operate at higher inlet temperatures that result in an increased return air temperature and more efficient computer room air conditioner (CRAC) operation.

Furthermore, if containment were to be installed in both the high-density and low-density environments, not only would the high-density application installation be less expensive, but it would also be significantly more efficient.

Most data center facilities use power usage effectiveness (PUE) to measure efficiency. PUE is a measure of how much cooling and other ancillary power it takes to support 1kW of IT load. In a high-density environment, the PUE is much lower because cooling efficiency is maximized.

High-Density Data Center Needed for High-Density IT Equipment

Simple analysis makes it clear that designing and building a smaller, high-density environment requires less capital than a larger, low-density data center. The facility will operate much more efficiently and electricity savings will add up over the lifetime of the data center.

The trend toward higher density IT equipment is expected to continue and accelerate. Facility owners and operators should take advantage of new technology and examine whether their data center is ready to support the shift.