Overcoming the challenges of the disjointed data centre
Within the last year, the pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of companies across the globe, making data centres a growing market. According to recent reports, the European data centre market is expected to have a revenue growth of up to 46% in the next four years.
As the UK looks towards plans to remove lockdown restrictions, many businesses will start to consider the return to work. This can take the form of an attempt to get employees back into the office as soon as possible, embracing a completely remote working style, or figuring out a combination of the two – the hybrid model. Whatever the choice, employees will need to ensure that they can get the data and accessibility they need, wherever they are, whenever they need it. Data centres will play a critical role in ensuring that businesses are able to transition employees into the ‘2021 new normal’ as seamlessly as possible.
So as it stands, the demand for data centres means that there is increasing pressure for them to be run as smoothly and as efficiently as possible. However, in order to ensure the trouble-free operation of a data centre, it is essential to keep a constant eye on a whole range of different components, both in IT and in physical facilities, in order to detect flaws as early as possible and thus avoid problems, damage and breakdowns. But this is not always easy when the data centre is disjointed.
Challenges of managing a data centre
Whether in the cloud, with a hybrid cloud solution or ‘on premises’: in the end, IT takes place on physical computers located in a building – the data centre. The availability and reliability of the applications used here therefore depend on two factors that usually do not have much in common: classic IT, i.e. hardware and software, network and infrastructure on the one hand and facilities on the other.
When broken down into segments we can categorise the data centre function into the following three departments:
- IT network and infrastructure - Hardware from server racks, computers and storage systems to switches and routers must be monitored as well as data traffic and applications.
- Facilities - Power and cooling are essential to data centre operations. Disturbances or even failures cause massive damage; continuous monitoring is essential.
- Security - The data centre is doubly at risk – on the IT level: DDos attacks, viruses, Trojans and similar threats; – on the physical level: fire, water and unauthorised intrusion.
The smooth operation of a data centre involves several challenges that revolve around ensuring that both the physical and non-physical aspects that keep the data centre running are monitored at all times. Regular checks of data centre facilities need to be carried out to ensure that there are no potential hazards. However dispersed teams, multiple monitoring platforms and differences in reporting/communication can leave room for unnecessary mistakes to occur.
Lost in translation
Both the IT and facilities management departments play a key role in the day-to-day operation of data centres. Everyone needs to be made aware of problems early on to be able to resolve them before bigger issues arise. This is even more of a challenge when hardly any solutions on the market can monitor both IT environments and facilities simultaneously.
Whilst protocols such as NetFlow, FTP, WMI or http are used in the IT world, communication in facilities is usually based on Modbus TCP or OPC UA, sometimes even as serial communication. Surprisingly enough, only Simple Network Managed Protocol (SNMP) appears in both worlds, whereby the network protocol plays a much more central role in IT than in facilities. A significant number of devices in data centre facilities support SNMP or the possibility of query via defined interfaces.
This makes it difficult to get a comprehensive overview of the state of the entire data centre, which combines IT and facilities in one dashboard. Even if the teams work closely together or even if the entire responsibility lies with one team: And yet, only a centralised overview ensures that irregularities, malfunctions or failures can be detected, localised and rectified in time before they grow into serious problems.
Data security: online and on-prem
Data centres can be exposed to threats on the IT level from hacks, viruses and trojans as well the physical level from threats such as intruders breaking in, fire outbreaks or floods. Adequate data protection involves digital ‘ring fencing’ to prevent hackers from tampering with data. This should be in conjunction with installing door lock systems to secure the building and setting up alarm systems and alerts in case there is a break in.
However, restricting access to a certain group of people is not enough. The room itself must also be monitored. This is where cameras, motion sensors or even heat sensors come into play.
Having both online and physical security measures in place is the first step. Being able to monitor both simply and in a single format is the next step. With working life becoming increasingly reliant on technology, businesses need to ensure that they have an eye on the security protocols set in place at all times, and that they are able to pull reports from one centralised platform as and when it's needed.
The data centre is the heart of a company and its data is the lifeblood. It is therefore crucial for companies to take care of their data centres and to put the appropriate technology and processes in place to protect their most precious asset. Investing in a single, centralised system that speaks the same language across teams can save time, money and reduce the chances of major issues occurring without the wider business being aware.
Schneider Electric reveals new IT Innovation report
Schneider Electric has released a new IT innovations report titled “Digital Economy and Climate Impact”, with the aim of gaining an understanding of how digitised and smart applications will be powered in the future. The company says that the report predicts that IT sector-related electricity demand is expected to increase by almost 50% by 2030.
Despite this, the report also shows that emissions would not increase by more than 26% by the same year, following the decarbonisation of the electricity system. In an attempt to reduce this rise in emissions the Schneider Electric TM Sustainability Research Institute recommends continued efforts in achieving efficiencies on the IT and energy sides at both the component and system levels.
The report highlights how the rise of edge computing technologies require a “specific focus” due to these systems being less efficient than hyperscale data centres. “When the world locked down, it also logged on and internet traffic soared,” said Pankaj Sharma, EVP, Secure Power, Schneider Electric.
“It’s misleading to assume that digital activity will inevitably result in a deeply problematic increase in CO2 emissions. The analysis from the Schneider Electric Sustainability Institute puts to rest many of the worst-case scenario claims predicting IT-related electricity use will double every five years. That said, as an industry, we must remain vigilant in finding new sources of sustainability gains while ensuring resiliency as digital keeps life moving forward”, he added.
As well as the release of the report, Schneider Electric also announced several updates to its EcoStruxure IT data center infrastructure management software, Galaxy VL 3-phase uninterruptable power supply (UPS), introducing an industry-leading single-phase UPS, the APC™ Smart-UPS™ Ultra. All introductions are designed to advance the industry forward in meeting sustainability goals while increasing the resiliency of IT and data centre infrastructure, the company said.
Managing hybrid data center and edge IT environments
Also showcased in Schneider Electric’s report are the increasing demands on digital consumption. According to the company, these create a more complex hybrid environment inclusive of enterprise, cloud, and edge data centres. Addressing the unique management challenges of a hybrid IT environment, Schneider Electric has announced updates to its EcoStruxure IT software to increase efficiency and resiliency, including:
- Increased remote management capabilities: New granular remote device configuration features enable users to change configurations on one or more devices – including the new Galaxy VL and APC Smart-UPS Ultra single-phase UPS units – from one centralised platform with EcoStruxure IT Expert. This update, combined with previously released software insights on device security health, enables the user to identify faulty devices or configurations and address them in a matter of clicks, keeping their hybrid IT environment secure.
- Improved environmental monitoring: Environmental monitoring systems ensure users have eyes and ears on data centre and IT deployments from anywhere, anytime. With this update, users can push mass configurations remotely for NetBotz cameras 750 and 755 quickly and efficiently increasing security across the critical infrastructure.
- Enhanced remote capacity modeling and planning: With EcoStruxure IT Advisor’s new capabilities, users can remotely compare an unlimited number of racks and easily identify available capacity, view what assets are deployed and their dependencies.
Sharma concluded: “Schneider Electric has been focused on sustainability for the past 15 years and was recently named the most sustainable corporation in the world. We have embraced the mindset that future innovation will deliver better efficiency across the broader connectivity landscape. By making smart intentional choices, our industry can help mitigate how much electricity and emissions result from the rising appetite for digital technologies”.