In this issue of our new regular feature, The Buzz, we aggregate and summarize what people have been doing, saying and writing about high-density IT infrastructure – to give you a quick 30,000-foot perspective.
A high-frequency trading application like the kind used by investment banks to execute trades milliseconds before their competitors might process 1015 floating-point operations per second. A seismic modeling application like the kind used by oil and gas companies to find the next Marcellus shale field might also process a petaflop…In other words, they do a lot of computation, fast.
Those kinds of computationally intense applications – known generally as high-performance computing (HPC) – require a lot of power. When figuring out how to accommodate that kind of computation in the data center, IT organizations have broadly two choices: many typical server racks spread across a large data center space; or fewer specialized server racks consolidated in a smaller data center space. When the choice is the latter, it requires high-density hardware and data center infrastructure to support it.
Density is measured by the amount of power used by a single server rack, or sometimes (to account for different server capacities), the amount of power used per square foot of data center space. While there’s no standard definition of a “typical” density, Gartner analysts tell us that the average server rack uses somewhere around 3-4 kW. Server racks running computationally intense applications – high-density racks – might use four or five times that much power.
Who needs high-density IT infrastructure?
The true need for high-density hardware and the data center infrastructure to support it is broadly dependent on two factors: 1) the power consumption of the application; and 2) the data center space available.
One specific use case for high-density IT infrastructure is seismic processing in the energy sector. In a new oilfield, for example, seismic modeling tells the company where to drill to maximize output and minimize cost and risk. In existing oilfields, seismic processing can help the company know which wells can yield more oil. As one Gartner analyst put it, energy companies use a lot of computing power to get the last drops out of their assets in a given field. In places such as the British Isles, Norway, Brazil, and the Middle East, especially – where the energy sector has high computational demands but space is constrained – high-density IT infrastructure makes sense.
Another specific use case for high-density infrastructure is in the financial services industry, where computation is intense and, again, space is limited. At the New York Stock Exchange or London Stock Exchange, for example, new data center space is practically non-existent. Yet firms are trying to maintain processing power as close to the exchange as possible (millisecond differences in latency can mean millions of dollars in gains or losses). At some point financial services firms are capped by space, a Gartner analyst explained. To keep up in the processing arms race they need to go denser to continue increasing capacity.
Not all data centers can accommodate high density hardware
The level of density you need your IT infrastructure to accommodate depends on the computational intensity of your applications (and by extension, your power usage), and the amount of space you have available. More power usage and less space requires a higher density infrastructure solution.
As demand for high-density hardware rises, power and cooling demands become even more intense; in some cases, more intense than the traditional raised-floor data center is prepared to handle. Forrester analysts explain: “IT infrastructure & operations professionals have told Forrester on several occasions that converged infrastructure offerings are more power-intensive and require more cooling than their data center is prepared to handle.” A traditional-raised floor data center – even a very modern one – can typically accommodate power densities of 150-200 watts per square foot.
Yet a purpose-built modular data center that has been highly engineered to meet the needs of high-density users can accommodate 650 watts per square foot. It can provide the flexibility required to meet today’s densities, and tomorrow’s.
Schedule a tour of an IO high density data center today.