Data Center Ecosystem

April 27, 2011  8:49 AM

Silly predictions

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

It never ceases to amaze me how strong some kool-aid is.  In a recent article, I read one consultant predict the end of copper structured systems.  Likewise I have read several predictions that seem to be just silly, and in some cases, stupid!  If we all think back to the fiber to the desktop that was supposed to rock the world, we certainly know that didn’t come true.  Buzz and hype don’t make a technology viable or valuable.  In the fiber to the desktop that was supposed to take over the world, many companies ran that fiber and the only time it has seen light was the day it was tested.

The same holds true for electronics, storage and anything else in our data center ecosystems.  The truth is that there is no one size fits all product that will be the bomb.  Closed minded consultants do the entire data center industry a huge disservice!  If you run across one of them, you should certainly run!

April 14, 2011  6:22 AM

Manny Moron – the Vendor

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

Manny is a pseudonym, no real people named Manny were harmed in the writing of this article. This is part one, part two to follow.

When I was running large data centers, one thing that shocked me was that everyone that came in to pitch me something didn’t necessarily have my best interest at heart.  This was a crushing lesson to a trusting person.  OK, I wasn’t that naive, but it still amazes me the bill of goods that some companies try to push on other companies.  As more companies look to outsource at least some services, it is important to have a balanced scorecard to keep from falling into some traps that either less than honorable, or merely uneducated people try to sell as finished goods.

“Green” experts.  Let’s be honest, we all learned to spell that word very early in our academic lives.  That doesn’t make us an expert on greening technologies.  Vendors that have solutions in this space tend to try to make this a one size fits all scenario.  Each data center ecosystem is different.  Online configurators are cool toys, but if you don’t understand the end result, regardless of who does the input, you probably are going to buy capacity you don’t need.  Even worse, is that many of the consultants get “finders fees” for positioning the products that they charge you as a company for “designing.”  A bit of a double dip!

Fix- get the original equipment manufacturer involved early!  Then if you want to hire someone to implement the solution, you will at least know what you are, in fact, buying.  Also, check references.  I don’t mean the references that either the vendor or the original equipment manufacturer hand out on resumes.  Do some networking and find out others that have had the technology in use for a while, and ask them how well it’s working.  Combing through old press releases is a great way to do this.  Support a year down the road is just as important as support day one.  Find out if the items really provided the savings stated.

FAKE ROI/TCO calculations.  It’s only a savings if you would have really had that expense to begin with!  It’s funny to see some of the line items listed as savings with some of the stuff out there.  I know I work for a cabling company, but this is a good example.  This product will save you XX% on your cabling infrastructure.  This would be true if you ignore the fact that you are buying proprietary cables to connect equipment from the active vendor.  Isn’t that a cable?   In most cases that cable is more expensive anyway!  What they are really saying is that it will save on someone else’s cabling.  If you price an aftermarket cable, it is less, but it may not work.  The same scenarios hold true for about anything in the data center.  A switch may be low in power, but if the corresponding network interface card isn’t you negate any savings.

FIX:  Look at all of the marketing calculations and weed out the ones that actually apply to your data center.  Don’t stop at just that piece of equipment either.  You have to look at what that technology will do to all of your data center ecosystems.

If you don’t do …….  it will void your warranty.  I hear this probably more than anything else.  If you hear that statement, it’s pretty safe to say, “Run Forrest, Run!”  I have worked with many end users that get this statement.  If you actually read the warranty, however, that language doesn’t exist.  Recently an end user I know was told that if they didn’t buy a certain cabinet, the equipment warranty would be void, but if they used that equipment company’s cabinet, there would be no problem.  What, you ask, did the warranty really say?  That the equipment has to operate under 85 degrees.  Even if they used that particular vendor’s cabinet, there is no guaranty that the operating temperatures would be met without looking at the cooling in the room.  However, the cabinet in question was 3times the price of other cabinets on the market with the same or greater cooling features.

FIX:  Go up the food chain.  If a local person is telling you a sweeping statement like that, there isn’t always an honest motive.  Read the warranty!  Some are overly strict which is another warning flag, but know the language.  There are many options these days.  A good vendor will work with you to provide a workable solution that is flexible.  Don’t necessarily take these statements at face value.  Call the corporate office and see if they are real.  It may be more about increasing a price tag than about a real fact.

April 12, 2011  8:24 AM

Is “or equal” really equal?

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

Consider the following study.  Low voltage falls under high voltage in a lot of contracts, however, this may not be a smart decision for an enterprise.  There are certainly several low voltage and fiber choices on the market, but what does “brand A, or equal” really mean?   It is quite easy for a contractor or subcontractor to substitute one product for another, generally based on price in order to increase project profitability.  Certain specs are overlooked and another product is deemed “or equal.”

If you think of the number of companies that sole spec a switching product for instance, or equal takes on a whole new meaning!  So why would companies open up their infrastructures to an “or equal” product without some verification that it is in fact, equal.  When I took math = is finite.  It either is or it isn’t.

Before you turn your decisions over to another, make sure that the decision is in your best interest.  A good company will be able to provide you with services an support.  This may not be “equal” from a company that is substituted at the last minute to increase someone else’s profitability!  What happens when you are flipped?  Much of your support can also be flipped after the installation.  Stand your ground on your decisions.  Low voltage is increasingly moving into separate RFP’s to avoid these issues.  This is one way to assure that you receive not only the product you want, but also the follow on support that you expect.  Anyone can sell parts.  What you really want is a company that will be a business partner moving forward.

More than 8 in 10 electrical contractors report having a “medium” or “high” ability to influence the overall electrical design or specifications with building owners or design team member

83% of electrical contractors report receiving any plans and specs that are incomplete (that is, where their firm is responsible for completing the design documentation). Electrical contractors say that, on average, plans and specs are incomplete 45% of the time

Almost 7 in 10 electrical contractors estimate that some portion of their 2010 sales will include projects with Sustainable / Green elements

-On average, a “single” brand is specified less than 25% of the time. In all other cases, other factors — multiple brands, “or equal to” or performance specified – come into play. Note that a “single” brand specification is far more common among electrical contracting firms with 1- 9 employees than among larger firms.

-Overall, contractors are able to select the brand/make brand substitutions about 70% of the time.
2010 Electrical Contractor Profile Study, presented by Electrical Contractor Magazine, conducted by Renaissance Research)

April 6, 2011  4:39 PM

Switch Vendor Wars

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

To unify or not to unify is one question.  Who’s gear gets selected is yet another.  Some reports would have you believe that a single vendor is the way to go, while other state that there really isn’t much of a savings at all.  Let’s be honest, while there are some nuances in the various systems, it really isn’t a large drain on resources to maintain average operations across several platforms, they really aren’t all that different if you are savvy in how a network works.  It does open up a whole new world of capabilities, however.  A customer recently told me that when brand X is the best at everything he needs, then he will consider them for everything he does.  Sage advice, and I have shared that opinion over the years.  There are very few large-multinational customers that I work with that use the same technology in every segment of their business for every application.

Now I realize that some vendors have great kool-aid, and certainly bring value, which of course is important.  But as the choices become increasingly sophisticated, feature rich, and cost competitive, it’s not as cut and dry a decision anymore.  Companies are using more sophisticated metrics to evaluate the technologies.  In short, the technology should support the business.  An open mind is critical to a realistic evaluation from various vendors.  Marketing materials are a poor way to evaluate critical network components.

I am seeing more and more companies open up their networks at least to consideration, whether they change their decisions or not.   Many of them are actually changing technologies as business needs dictate other factors outside of tradition.

In short, keep an open mind.

January 28, 2011  10:49 AM

Conflicting think tank reports

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

In a recent article, Gartner disputed Cisco’s claims that a single unified architecture saves money.  At the same time a Forrester research article, commissioned by Cisco, backed up those claims.  The two reports, picked up by several sources, have caused a flurry of comments.  It strikes me as a bit odd that the majority of the comments are anonymous leaving the reader to wonder where loyalties lie, or even if those leaving comments are employed by Cisco, Forrester or Gartner.

Having run several large data centers myself, I can say that personally, I’m not a proponent of all eggs in one basket for a variety of reasons.  But the reports themselves are vastly different in their findings.  So the question is, how much stock to people really put into these reports?

I find these reports useful when predicting various findings about market trends, and they definitely provide food for thought.  I would love to hear your comments on how, or if, you use these reports when making business decisions.  Would these reports cause you to rethink your vendor strategies?

CIO’s owe it to their company to evaluate all options in light of business needs.  Evaluations should include price, ongoing maintenance, value, support and a variety of other factors.  Do you see your data center changing to a single manufacturer?

January 4, 2011  2:59 PM

USGBC – Data centers and hospitality the same?

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

In the new LEED certification program, data centers once again fall under the commercial building document up for draft comments and public comments until January 14, 2011.  Although data centers quite often reside in commercial buildings, the two can simply not be treated the same.  But as the document specifically call out data centers, it is worth mentioning here to encourage everyone involved in data centers to respond.

The document has several flaws as it relates to data centers including fireplaces, open windows, climate control access to personnel for personal comfort, building near public transit, and other clauses that are generally frowned upon in or around a data center.

It’s time for a new LEED data center certification that incorporates Energy star and other initiatives.  Or at a minimum, the data center sections need to be removed from sections where it makes NO sense for data centers to be mentioned before some interpretation gone wrong leads to disastrous but LEED certified consequences.

December 27, 2010  9:41 AM

FM200 shortage

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

Dupont has announced a shortage of raw materials for the manufacture of FM200.  While most companies simply store it, companies that have had a discharge due to fire may find an extraordinarily long lead time to refill their storage, or find an alternate solution to the system.  FM200 has been the primary fire suppression since Halon was banned years ago.  For those companies that have had a discharge of their system, it has been reported that there may be a several month lead time to have fire suppression recharged leaving those companies to rely on other methods for fire suppression in the interim.

While companies are in the process of “greening” data centers, fire suppression is likely to fall under the green umbrella as more environmentally friendly fire suppression methods are found.  If you happen to be planning a new data center build, it is worthwhile to investigate other fire suppression methods that are more “green” and in great supply, or at least not as susceptible to raw materials.

November 22, 2010  11:51 AM

Raised floors – to slab or not to slab

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

With some data centers moving away from raised floors, one may ask – is the raised floor dead?  The real answer lies in the room itself.  If there is room for a raised floor many data centers still opt for this technology.  The raised floor provides options for power, cooling, cabling and chilled water pipes.  Putting all supporting systems overhead can be difficult in some data centers.  With all of the marketing information out there, one thing is sure, it is pretty impossible to add a raised floor back to a data center.  Newer raised floors and accessories provide lots of new options.  Whichever way you go, be sure to look at your options.  You also want to be sure that whoever is doing your design and layout is smart enough to design the correct pathway and space systems.  If designed correctly, they don’t cause an issue with cooling.  The problems in data centers today is that many grew out of need rather than planning and the resultant mess is, well problematic to say the least.  Remember, the more you cut out of a data center, the more you decrease your options in the future.

November 9, 2010  6:57 PM

End of Life..Will it be End of Relationship?

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

No one wants to hear that their equipment is at the end of life when budgets are strained and dollars precious.  But in the data center, that is exactly what is happening.  Companies are being forced to upgrade and replace networking equipment due to some end of life announcements from Cisco the ever popular 6500 series switches and components are nearing their end of life.  One question looms.  With all of the options out there, will traditionally Cisco only shops look to other vendors for less expensive, more feature rich solutions, or will companies bite the bullet and just budget the upgrades where possible?  The other alternative is to run on end of life equipment, which is never ideal.

One thing is sure, data center options increase as vendors try to be everything to everyone in a data center.  HP has already retired Cisco from their data centers.  Does this open the door for HP shops to displace their end of life Cisco gear with 3Com networking components?  How about IBM shops replacing Cisco with Juniper components?

While companies struggle to keep updated laptops and desktops going in the 2-3 year average cycle, many have kept networking gear around for significantly longer periods of time as a means of saving money. End of life notices are one thing if you have a chance to budget.   This being November, in a lot of cases next year’s budgets are already set.  So what do you do?

So the question is….what is the risk?  There is lots of Cisco gear on the second hand market, will companies invest in spares before upgrades?  Alternatively, will companies continue to utilize the equipment after the EoL for non critical applications and only upgrade what is imminently necessary?  CIO’s are going to face some tough decisions and more importantly some tough justifications.  CFO’s in many cases are forcing once closed specs to include other manufacturers.  Brand names are exactly that..brand names.  I’m not picking on any one manufacturer.  I’m seeing more and more of this across the board.  If you say you can do it – prove it!  And further, proving it isn’t enough…prove you are the best at it from a price and performance perspective.

I have seen some crazy matrices!  Bits per dollar, packets per second per dollar, VM’s per server per dollar, and the list goes on.  I would love to compile a list of all the equations considered.  But in these decisions, remember, you want a business partner not a parts vendor.  Anyone can sell you parts and support after the sale can be…well….sometimes less than ideal.  Decisions can’t be made in a vacuum.  This is especially true in a data center which is, and should be, viewed as an ecosystem.

If you want the best evaluation- my suggestion, and what I have done in the past, is put all the “kids on the same playground.”  That is, have a vendor round table discussion.  I do them all the time with end users.  Think of it this way, there are 4 tires on a car.  One bad tire decision and the car won’t drive very well and certainly not for long.  The key to a great data center design is versatility, agility, longevity, and all within reason.  The same holds true for equipment upgrades.  For core equipment, you need to understand what the impact is on power, cooling, over-subcription of ports, growth, cabling and end of life.  For servers, you must understand what that does to existing equipment, new purchases, power, cooling, and core and/or networking equipment.  For facilities, what are you trying to support?  If you can’t get everyone on the same page, trust me, you are reading different books.  The standards are a start, common sense and true evaluations are the end.

I do feel rather sorry for the middle companies (SI’s, Implementation firms, etc.) as they are likely to take the heated discussions.

November 1, 2010  9:07 AM

How Expert is your Expert?

Carrie Higbie Carrie Higbie Profile: Carrie Higbie

Just because you can spell data center that does not make you an expert!  This isn’t directed to those of us that work to maintain current knowledge, new technologies, and the latest green trends, but rather to those that design the same data center over and over, the ones that think low speeds are all that will ever be used, and most importantly those that try to get you to alter your business and planning around a certain technology just so they can make the sale.

I was in a consultant’s office recently, and I asked him how he designs pathways and spaces without knowing density, equipment, etc.  His response, “I just give them 12″ ladder rack all the way around and when they use it up, tough!”  Now that is user friendly!  Yet another value engineered out the UPS system and Generator for a hospital.  Not much value if I’m a patient at the time.  Turns out to retrofit back in the generator cost them twice the amount on installation.

These days when there are so many people out there that purport to be experts, it is difficult to tell what is what and who is who.  Your best bet is to do the following:

  • Get references (preferably by word of mouth or off their website) that have been living with their DC for a while
  • Find out how many other DC’s they have designed and what their product knowledge is.  This will involve some homework on new technologies.  Meetings like AFCOM, 7×24, and other end user consortia will help.
  • Invite all of your DC team to the meetings to ask “what if” questions.
  • Invite all of your preferred DC vendors to a round-table discussion.
  • Most important, ALWAYS ALWAYS have a backup source for brainstorming and discussion.  If you think about it, a finite group will have a finite number of solutions.  These generally follow the “flavor of the day” technologies and may not provide a good workable long term data center design that is agile and flexible enough to accommodate a variety of technologies which will provide a far better ROI.
  • Be aware of overall contracts, if one part of the construction falls short, the GC may skimp corners on the rest (this happens a lot).
  • Technology, in particular, low voltage, pathways and spaces, etc. are probably best part of a separate contract unless your GC is willing to follow your spec.
  • Have final approval on any and all Value Engineering.  Make sure you understand the implications long term.
  • Talk to other people that use the technology you are evaluating.
  • Lastly, do your homework so you can be an informed consumer.  Be aware that the most expensive solution is not always the best, and neither is the least.  There should be clear benefits to any solution that have NO adverse effects on another part of the ecosystem.

If you do have a horrible experience with an expert, spread the word.  In fact, no naming names, but feel free to comment with bad experiences here.  The more we all know the better we all are!  It’s great to learn from another’s mistake before you make it yourself!

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