Data Center Reliability and Efficiency in the “Zettabyte Era”

The world as we knew it has ended. The new world is defined by exponentially increasing compute loads that are increasingly dynamic. And it demands innovation in data center infrastructure. 

This post is based on a talk Aligned Energy Founder and CTO Jakob Carnemark made in 2016 at the Data Center Dynamics Colo + Cloud conference in Dallas. We thought about it as the conference kicked off again this year.

Jakob talked about how dynamic compute loads are creating increasing pressure on data centers. And how data center infrastructure must evolve to support today’s increasing and uncertain workloads.

This is worth another read. Even though a year can seem like a millennia in the technology world, these thoughts from a year ago are as relevant as ever.

This post was originally published on November 8, 2016.

“There is a convergence of large, dense, dynamic power draws on an unstable grid that itself is dynamic. We need to chart a course for innovation of the next generation of data center infrastructure to support this new world.”  – Jakob Carnemark, Founder and CTO, Aligned Energy at DCD Colo + Cloud, Dallas 2016

It’s the end of the world as we knew it. Welcome to what Cisco calls the “zettabyte era.”

“We’ve begun the move to digital business, including rich content via mobile devices, where people, their devices and even unattended ‘things’ become actors in transactions,” says Gartner analyst Bob Gill in the report Eight Trends Will Shape the Colocation Market in 2016.

No industry goes untouched by the possibilities presented by digital business: transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, energy, retail, agriculture, and every other one. According to MIT Sloan research, the companies that are adapting to a digital world are 26% more profitable than their industry peers. And the possibilities are growing: according to IDC, actionable data – the data that is analyzed and used to change business processes – will increase almost ten-fold from 2020 to 2025.

Compute loads are increasing exponentially

With the exponential increase in the number of “things” that are actors in transactions and the exponential growth of actionable data, compute loads are growing exponentially as well. Having increased fivefold between 2010 and 2015, by the end of 2016 annual global Internet traffic (a reasonable proxy for compute load trends) will have exceeded one zettabyte, according to Cisco. Just four years later, it will have doubled.

To visualize how much compute loads have grown, think about it this way: in the early days of the Internet, the amount of traffic could be represented by a 2-inch tall mouse.

In comparison, traffic today is 23 times the diameter of the earth. There isn’t enough space on this page to accurately depict the magnitude of that increase.

Compute loads are also increasingly dynamic

Compute workloads are dynamic from month to month – the ecommerce site’s traffic spikes at the end of November through the end of December, for example. They’re also dynamic hour to hour – traffic to a search engine’s U.S. data centers is high during the day and lower in the middle of the night, though then traffic to its Asia data centers is high – demand for compute, in this case, “follows the sun.” Compute workloads also depend on the business cycle – development work might be very high for a period, then drop off, then spike again.

And as workloads driven by continuous growth of “uncertain data” such as IoT sensors and devices, social media, and VoIP rise, the unpredictability rises even more. As just one example: spikes in Twitter traffic during the last presidential debate are understandable, and perhaps Twitter even expected them, but regardless, an 18% rise in traffic in the span of an hour (almost 100 million new tweets) is characteristic of this new world – a world of highly dynamic workloads.

Source: IBM Investor Briefing

IT infrastructure has kept pace, but data center infrastructure has not

IT infrastructure – servers for compute and storage, and networking equipment – have kept pace with the exponential increases in work they’re asked to do, as well as with the increasingly dynamic work. In the last five years alone the amount of compute load an individual server handles has increased exponentially.

The data center infrastructure that supports those compute loads, however, has been much slower to change (with the obvious exception of hyper scale data centers, where there has been significant innovation). When electricity passes through a transistor, there’s friction, which creates heat. All else equal, the more transistors there are in a given space (i.e., the higher the server density) the more heat it generates. Servers have gotten better at mitigating that heat with their own internal fans, but most of the burden still falls on the data center.

So that begs the question: How well equipped are traditional on-premises and colocation data centers to support the exponentially increasing, and increasingly dynamic, compute loads?

In a traditional data center, where power and cooling infrastructure is static, there is a tradeoff between reliability and efficiency. The only way to ensure that the servers don’t overheat and fail is to either half-fill the racks or spread the racks apart. Both approaches create stranded capacity. And when the cooling system is a traditional chiller plant that is only efficient at full load, the approach also minimizes efficiency.

Furthermore, given the exponential rise in compute loads, and the increasingly dynamic nature of compute loads, “future-proofing” a traditional data center means over-building power and cooling infrastructure, since that infrastructure has a lifespan of several decades, even as servers are refreshed every couple of years. Again, there’s a tradeoff between reliability and efficiency.

However, if the data center were responsive to compute loads, then you could have reliability and efficiency too. At Aligned Energy, that’s made possible by our patented cooling system. Here’s how it works:

Our cooling system can handle much higher delta Ts than is typical because instead of forcing cold air into the data hall, our system removes the heat at its source, with heat sinks close-coupled with the server racks. We solve the challenges associated with high, variable, and mixed density without specialized cooling infrastructure that is both costly and risky (water by your gear).

Aligned Energy’s cooling platform has a consistent energy overhead from 10%-100% load and is able to respond to highly variable delta and air requirements. The system is dynamic in real time, ramping up and down based on server load. Variable speed fans and variable frequency drive (VFD) pumps allow flow rate to respond to changing loads. Our system matches the airflow of servers as they ramp, helping server fans spin down to their lowest levels. That lowers critical load, and at scale saves a significant amount of power and reduces airflow requirements.

Our cooling infrastructure by design makes it easy to scale density vertically. Consider the example of the 333 sq. ft. footprint initially configured to support 4.5 kW per rack where the client wants to run higher density servers, at 9 kW per rack. Additional power can be installed at the rack level through the busway at the top of the rack.

Likewise, additional close-coupled heat sinks, which have a nominal cooling capacity of 30 kW, can be installed at the rack level. If necessary, additional cooling distribution units (CDUs), which have a nominal cooling capacity of 350 kW, can be easily installed in a localized area in the data center to allow for vertical scalability. Now the same 333 sq. ft. footprint can support 9 kW per rack without reconfiguration of the rack layout.

Here’s what Peter Judge, from Datacenter Dynamics, wrote about his visit to our Dallas data center: “The demo pod is designed to replicate the real world – which means it has every conceivable kind of rack, all of them tested with heat load units. I’m not sharing my photos, but I’m betting that aisle would impress any visitors who are real data center customers. It shows something most colo providers say is impossible: running real-world, mixed and messy technology at peak efficiency.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. A data center for the real world.

Learn more: Watch our Founder and CTO Jakob Carnemark share his thoughts on this topic at DCD Colo + Cloud, Dallas 2016

Sabre Corporation Selects Aligned Energy As Data Center Provider

Aligned Energy, an infrastructure technology company that offers colocation and build-to-scale solutions to cloud, enterprise and managed service providers, today announced that Sabre Corporation (NASDAQ: SABR), the leading technology provider to the global travel industry, has signed a colocation agreement in Aligned’s Uptime Institute Tier III-certified adaptive data center in Plano, TX.

“Travel simply cannot happen without Sabre technology, and we are driven to transform the industry by delivering innovative ways to plan, purchase and enjoy the perfect travel experience,” said Vish Saoji, Sabre CTO. “We selected Aligned Energy as our primary data center partner for their ability to support our rapid innovation, implementation and quality product development as we build out our platform, SaaS and cloud strategies.”

Aligned Energy’s data center infrastructure is unique in that it responds to both standard and dynamic workloads with flexible rack densities of up to 50 kW, or 1000 watts per square foot, enabling customers to deploy computational applications without latency or disruption.

“Sabre serves a market that demands steadfast reliability and uptime alongside incredibly fast response times,” said Andrew Schaap, CEO of Aligned Energy. “Through our adaptive hyper-efficient technology and highly-reliable infrastructure, we look forward to supporting Sabre’s acceleration to open source and cloud-based solutions that enable quicker innovation, stability and security.”

Aligned Energy’s agile data center and intelligent infrastructure solutions are engineered to continuously improve economic and environmental performance, and guarantee a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.15. By partnering with Aligned Energy, Sabre’s operations will use up to 85 percent less water and up to 80 percent less power than workloads deployed in traditional facilities, coinciding with Sabre’s dedication to reducing the environmental impact of their facilities and resulting in a lower total cost of ownership.

About Sabre Corporation (NASDAQ: SABR)

Sabre Corporation is the leading technology provider to the global travel industry. Sabre’s software, data, mobile and distribution solutions are used by hundreds of airlines and thousands of hotel properties to manage critical operations, including passenger and guest reservations, revenue management, flight, network and crew management. Sabre also operates a leading global travel marketplace, which processes more than US$120 billion of global travel spend annually by connecting travel buyers and suppliers. Headquartered in Southlake, Texas, USA, Sabre serves customers in more than 160 countries around the world.

About Aligned Energy

Aligned Energy is an infrastructure technology company that offers colocation and build-to-scale solutions to cloud, enterprise, and service providers. Our intelligent infrastructure allows us to deliver data centers like a utility—accessible and consumable as needed. By reducing the energy, water and space needed to operate, our data center solutions combined with our patent cooling technology offer businesses a competitive advantage by improving reliability and their bottom-line.

Press and Analyst Inquiries

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The Role of the Data Center in the Age of the Customer

September 18, 2017

Aligned Energy CEO Andrew Schaap writes about how success in the “Age of the Customer” requires a true partnership with the data center.

By Andrew Schaap, CEO, Aligned Energy

Quick Take

  • Companies that thrive in the Age of the Customer do so by being fast, responsive, and scalable.
  • Success requires a data center partner who can deliver compute, storage, and network capacity nimbly and quickly.
  • Ultimately, having strong, reliable partners is about mitigating risk.

In 2011 the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote a now-famous op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Software Is Eating the World.” In it, he predicted “More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services – from movies to agriculture to national defense.”

He was right, of course. But software doesn’t have a mind of its own; software has eaten the world because consumers are hungry.

With appetites for instant access whetted by the likes of Netflix and Amazon, consumers began to demand instant access to other services as well. Gone are the days of waiting for a show to air, or for IT to procure and install new software, or for the doctor’s office to call back with the test results. This is what Forrester calls the Age of the Customer, in which “the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers.”

“Software has eaten the world because consumers are hungry.” – Click to Tweet

The impact of consumer empowerment on businesses can hardly be overstated. It has brought an era of what McKinsey calls “relentlessly evolving business models.” Companies that have figured out how to thrive in this environment are winning the battle for market share and profit growth. And how do they thrive? By being fast, responsive, and scalable.

Underpinning it all: Digital infrastructure

In a world in which every business is a digital business, being a fast, responsive, and scalable business requires IT to have the same qualities. And IT, of course, depends on the data center. As Gartner says, infrastructure and operations “is no longer IT support – it’s the engine the drives digital business.”

And that’s where we come in. Our clients have to scale quickly and pivot nimbly in response to their customers’ demands. We help make that possible.

“Companies thrive in the Age of the Customer by being fast, responsive, and scalable.” – Click to Tweet

As I wrote in my last blog post, “Organizations are only as agile, fast, and visionary as their data centers. Cloud, colocation, or on-premises, the data center is the factory of the digital age. Success requires a data center partner who can deliver compute, storage, and network capacity nimbly and quickly and has a strategic vision for how to meet the capacity needs of tomorrow.”

It’s still about the people

Part of the way we help our clients meet their customers’ seemingly insatiable demand is through technology: sustainable and efficient designs (PUE, WUE, CUE), flexible resiliency options, future-proofing, flexible densities, and the ability to move into new markets quickly.

In addition to the technology, the people are essential. Until the robots take over the world, human relationships matter. It’s still people selecting sites, negotiating contracts, operating the network operations center, powering the remote hands. It’s still people meeting delivery commitments, responsible for operational uptime and reliability, accountable when things don’t go as planned.

“Ultimately, having strong, reliable partners is about mitigating risk.” – Click to Tweet

One reason I joined Aligned Energy is the caliber of the individuals who make up this company and their commitment to our clients. Even as we continue to talk about the operational excellence and technological innovation that drives value for our clients, we also talk the simple yet essential things that make doing business with Aligned Energy easy. For example: our commitment to moving fast from proposal to provisioning, our flexible design/deal structures, and our easy legal/financial process.

Ultimately, having strong, reliable partners is about mitigating risk.

In a recently released white paper, Solving the Capacity Challenge, we talk about how overcoming the tactical challenge of delivering capacity quickly is all about mitigating risk – mitigating the risk of not being able to meet the needs of the business. “It requires the ability to bring capacity online quickly, which requires a reliable data center partner that will deliver – a data center partner that is easy to work with, from initial discussions about requirements all the way through to day-to-day operations.”

15 Questions to Ask Your Data Center Provider

September 8, 2017

15 key questions that provide tech giants a holistic, objective picture of an ecosystem partner’s ability to ease capacity challenges.

Though Gordon Moore’s prediction about how processing capacity would increase over time has held true, it’s hard to believe that he could really have envisioned just what the world would look like today. A computer orders of magnitude faster than the first supercomputer – in everyone’s pocket. The ability to stream high-quality video – on a mobile phone, anywhere in the world. A company that starts the day with zero customers – and ends it with 100 million.

These are all products of a world in which demand for capacity is: 1) huge, and rising fast; 2) unpredictable; 3) in new markets; and 4) variable. There is no group more affected by these four trends than the tech giants who run the infrastructure at the foundation of it all – in the data center. For this group, the four trends drive the need to deliver capacity as fast as possible, where it’s needed, whenever it’s need it, at the scale it’s need to keep the business going. And they make it evermore challenging to do so.

“It is increasingly difficult to deliver capacity at the speed and scale the business demands.” – Click to Tweet

Most tech giants rely on an ecosystem of data center partners to solve tactical and strategic data center capacity challenges. But unless the data center provider is already a partner, how’s a tech giant to know whether that provider can actually deliver? Only by digging into the provider’s customer centricity and ability to deliver capacity fast, and the extent to which the provider enables future-proof deployments at any scale around the world.

“Most tech giants rely on an ecosystem of data center partners to solve tactical and strategic data center capacity challenges.” – Click to Tweet

Digging in is exactly what tech giants can do with the new Top 15 Questions to Ask Your Data Center Provider. The one-page PDF is designed to help tech giants searching for new data center providers to assess how well and how quickly they can deliver capacity.

Questions like ‘How quickly can you deliver (#) MWs of capacity in (location)?’ and ‘If I want to increase density per rack (i.e., vertically scale) how can I do that?’ and ‘If you can deploy in emerging markets, how do you deal with power reliability issues, power and water constraints, and human capital constraints?’ provide a holistic, objective initial assessment of a provider’s likely ability to deliver.

Download the 15 Questions

For more information on how to overcome your near-term tactical and long-term strategic data center challenges read our whitepaper Solving the Capacity Challenge or talk through the 15 questions with one of our solution architects.