Location, location, location

* Considerations for locating a data center

Real estate mavens will endlessly repeat the three criteria for a property: location, location, location. Data centers are real estate, too, so what are the three most important criteria for the data center?

Location is the most important consideration for a new data center, as with any piece of real estate. But, what makes a good location for a home does not make a good location for a data center.

When judging a location for a data center we need to examine three things - energy, environmental risk and connectivity. Let's look at these three considerations in more detail.

Availability and capacity for power generation and distribution

Dense computing architectures, such as blade servers and high-capacity storage arrays have pushed the power requirements of data centers to an order-of-magnitude increase over the last five years. Equipment racks used to consume an average of 1 kW of electricity, whereas now the average is around 15 kW with some racks reaching 30 kW.

The trend of increased density in racks is complemented by data center consolidation, in which companies concentrate all their IT resources in one or two “mega” data centers.

That pushes overall data center consumption to extraordinary levels, with examples of massive data centers by Yahoo, Microsoft and Google contracting for 30 MW to 50 MW of power. To put that into perspective: three of those data centers would consume 1% of total generating capacity in many states (DoE statistics, 2005). In many locations, there will simply not be enough spare capacity available.

Probability of natural disasters or geopolitical unrest

The second important criterion is the geological, environmental and geopolitical stability of the location. Availability is one of the most important “deliverables” of a successful data center and that means that companies must select a location that minimizes the external risk of disruption.

Unfortunately, some good locations for energy are near geologically or environmentally risky areas. Geological risks include earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides. Environmental risks include hurricanes, tornados, floods and tsunamis in coastal areas, and lightning strikes. Finally, geopolitical risks (low risk in the U.S.) may include riots, revolutions, civil wars or armed conflict.

Data connectivity

The third criterion is the availability of data connectivity. A data center needs good data connectivity and diversity of providers (physical and data layer diversity). Furthermore, with new applications that are sensitive to latency and jitter such as voice over IP and IPTV, data centers need to be “near” (in a network-connectivity sense) major peering points.

So if location, location, location holds true for data centers, then the three considerations above are the most important aspects of “location.”

One interesting omission from the list above is the location of IT staff. In the last few years, we have seen an increasingly strong trend towards “lights-out” data centers, which are operated remotely. While there will be some staff at the data center, their responsibilities may be more about facilities management and the physical rack-and-stack repairs. Indeed, most server administrators and operations staff will be remote from the data center.

Any other criteria you would consider top-of-mind when selecting a location for you data center? Please write us a note for a future article.

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