The Cost Savings of High-Density Data Center Environments

5 minute read
The Power of High Density

In the past, data center operators often thought of floor space as the major factor in determining the design of a new data center facility.

Today, data center managers should think about the density of the power, not the amount of floor space they have to work with.

More than 20 years ago, most data center facilities were designed with less than 100 W per square foot and sometimes even as low as 40 to 60 W per square foot. Over the past 10 years, data center design density has increased to between 100 and 150 W per square foot and/or less than 5 kW per cabinet. In recent years, however, the trend toward even higher-density data center environments has been accelerating, as a result of the vast proliferation of virtualization and cloud implementation.

These new technologies demand higher kW-per-cabinet densities that aging data center facilities simply cannot accommodate. When considering either building a new facility or sourcing a new data center provider, owners and operators would be wise to consider smaller, high-density environments over larger, low-density environments.

In addition to being able to support the latest information technology (IT) equipment in a higher-density environment, owners and operators would also benefit from significant cost savings that can be realized when building or leasing a high-density environment (as compared to a low-density environment).

Capital Cost Savings

The age-old question when building a data center has always been:

How much space will we need to accommodate our current needs and future growth?

In reality, space is really only part of the story. Facility owners and operators should actually be considering power and cooling densities rather than square footage.

Current and future IT architectures that focus on cloud and software-defined logical workflow require facility designers and operators to think differently about the physical data center facility. Companies that decide to build or lease a facility that is capable of 10 kW per cabinet or higher can see significant savings both in capital and operational costs. High-density data centers can often be half the size (or less) of a low-density data center facility that supports the same compute power.

In addition, a smaller, high-density facility will require fewer IT cabinets; fewer rack power distribution units (PDUs); smaller fire detection and suppression systems; shorter fiber/copper cable lengths; and shorter electrical power feeders. If you break down the cost of this infrastructure required to support your IT equipment, you would find that each IT cabinet footprint costs between $12,000 - $20,000 to deploy and potentially more if your environment requires significant structured cabling. If you can reduce the number of IT cabinets that you need to deploy by half in a high density data center, your capital costs can be significantly reduced.

The savings are even greater if a smaller plot of land can be purchased to house the new data center. It should be noted, however, that the installation of the electrical and mechanical system components are incrementally more expensive in a high-density environment.

At a high level and using rough order of magnitude costs, here is an example of the capital costs that can be saved with a high-density environment. 

High Density Capital Efficiencies

On the leasing side of the equation, most colocation providers give clients a pre-determined amount of power to use within their cage or suite. Many of these same providers are still only offering 3 to 5 kW-per-cabinet densities. As a result, their clients are forced to enter into an agreement for more floor space in an effort to obtain more power. This model makes it virtually impossible for clients to maximize the utilization of the vertical "U" space within their cabinets.

Fortunately, there have been several new players entering the colocation market that can support higher kW-per-cabinet densities. When exploring new colocation vendors, clients should always consider power density as an important factor in the decision-making process.

Operational Cost Savings

In addition to the upfront capital savings associated with a high-density environment, significant savings can also be realized on the operational side. The reason for this is that high-density environments generally operate much more efficiently than large, low-density environments. In a smaller, high-density environment, air distribution is much more consistent, and cooling units are able to more effectively match cooling to IT load. In addition, high-density environments generally operate at higher inlet temperatures which results in an increased return air temperature (RAT) and more efficient computer room air conditioner (CRAC) operation.

Furthermore, if containment were to be installed in both the high-density and low-density environments, not only would the installation be less expensive for the high-density application, but it would also be significantly more efficient by comparison. When measuring efficiency, most data center facilities utilize the industry standard metric: power usage effectiveness (PUE). PUE is a measure of how much cooling and other ancillary power it takes to support 1 kW of IT load. In a high-density environment, the PUE would be significantly reduced because cooling efficiency is maximized.

A high-level example of cost savings associated with a more efficient, high-density data center environment.

High Density Operational Efficiencies

High-Density Data Center Facility Needed for High-Density IT Equipment

After simple analysis, it becomes clear that designing and building a smaller, high-density environment will require less capital than a larger, low-density data center facility. Additionally, the data center facility will operate much more efficiently and electricity usage savings will continue to add up over the lifetime of the data center. The trend toward higher-density IT equipment is expected to continue and accelerate in the years to come. Facility owners and operators should be planning their strategy on how to take advantage of new technology and whether or not their current data center environment is well suited to support the trend toward high-density IT equipment.

For more tips about how a high-density data center environment can help you, get The Essential Guide to the Data Center Facility of the Future.

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