Chinas Data Center Challenges

By: Jose Allan Tan

By Jose Allan Tan

The good news is that China has a competent labor pool from which to draw the necessary skills to build and support data center operation. The bad news is that China's data center managers face the same problems as their counterparts in developed countries like the US and Europe.

While salaries, which comprise a significant portion of IT budgets, remain low relative to those in the US, Europe, Japan or Australia, other costs are not too far off.

"Mature industries like banking are heavily dependent on technology to thrive. In these markets, data centers are built based on similar standards as those in more market markets like the US and Europe," said Jerry Yi, Senior Solutions Consultant, China Hewlett-Packard.

One significant advantage that China has over markets like Singapore and Hong Kong is the limited amount of legacy infrastructure in place. Chinese businesses that are expanding to meet domestic and international business opportunities can take advantage of new technology and not be held down by legacy applications and business processes.

China's economic boom is significantly impacting the way data centers are designed, built and operated. BUt many of these centers are still located in major business cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. In these locations, real estate costs are rapidly rising and data center managers need to carefully plan for space if they are to ensure effective use of prime resources.

Richard Y. Mei, Technical Manager, Systems Engineering at Commscope, notes that China's data center designers and managers can leverage best practices learned in structured cabling, cooling/heating/ventilation and lighting to enhance operational efficiency.

"The inhibitor towards successful data center design is not price but growth. Companies need to carefully plan for growth. Otherwise they will discover that the data center facility they built today will not able to meet business demands in a year's time," he said.

Raju Chellam, Asia-Pacific Vice President for AMI Partners, an international research firm, agrees. "The biggest and most common mistake among data center designers in Asia is poor planning. Lack of proper foresight and failure to pay attention to the potential of business growth is resulting in some data centers reaching capacity within a matter of 18 months. This is a waste of company resource and will definitely result in lost business opportunities as companies struggle to build new data centers or extend existing ones."

Although virtualization is reducing the number of new servers being purchased, the compact design of blade servers means that cooling and ventilation will become significant factors in data center design and operation.

"Companies need to look at advances in dynamic smart cooling technologies to cooling-over-provisioning and higher operational cost issues," adds Yi.

Mei recommends sticking to standards when selecting the core components of a data center. "It is a mistake to assume that buying cheaper cables and connectors will save you money. On the contrary, such a practice often leads to higher costs as companies eventually realize that they sacrifice reliability and scalability to save a few dollars. There are hard dollars lost when a data center goes down because of faulty cabling," argues Mei.

Another challenge facing IT managers is the issue of budgets. China's economy is booming and businesses are expanding. But IT budgets are not keeping up with the growth beyond the technology. To add pressure to the kettle, focus has remained on the cost of acquisition rather than the total cost of ownership. Unfortunately, initial purchase price is clearly visible to finance and senior management.

Two other costs often ignored in the planning stages are operational costs and implementation costs. The former includes system management, power and cooling, and the impact of system failure. These costs are difficult to quantify in detail. The latter carries a variability clause meaning additional costs will be incurred subject to delays that are cannot be accurately predicted.

Troy Syn, Managing principal APJ TSG Presales SWAT, Technology Solutions Group at HP notes that given today's constrained IT budgets, there is a reluctance to invest capital on IT. "This has lead to a "Band Aid" approach to IT investment. However this approach has also lead to a (slowly) increasing run rate of IT costs. Given that IT is now a critical component of a company's operations, perhaps the biggest misconception that needs to be changed is that investments in IT need to be made for long term transformations," adds Syn.

Indeed, good planning, attention to detail and foresight are attributes that come with some of the best built data centers in the world. Listening to the experience of others will pay dividends very quickly.

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