The Fastest Route to Using Data Analysis in Data Center Operations

voltThe transition to data-driven operations within data centers is inevitable.  In fact, it has already begun.

With this in mind, my last blog questioned why data centers still resist data use, surmising that because data use doesn’t fall within traditional roles and training, third parties – and new tools – will be needed to help with the transition. “Retrofitting” existing personnel, at least in the short term, is unrealistic.  And time matters.

Consider the example of my Chevy Volt.  The Volt illustrates just how quickly a traditional industry can be caught flat-footed in a time of transition, opening opportunities for others to seize market share. The Volt is as much a rolling mass of interconnected computers as it is a car. It has 10 million lines of code. 10 million!  That’s more than a F-22 Raptor, the most advanced fighter plane on earth.

The Volt of course, needs regular service just like any car.  While car manufacturers were clearly pivoting toward complex software-driven engines, car dealerships were still staffed with engine mechanics, albeit highly skilled mechanics.  During my service experience, the dealership had one guy trained and equipped to diagnose and tune the Volt.  One guy.  Volts were and are selling like crazy.  And when that guy was on vacation, I had to wait.

So, the inevitable happened.  Third party service shops, which were fully staffed with digitally-savvy technicians specifically trained in electric vehicle maintenance, quickly gained business.  Those shops employed mechanics, but the car diagnostics were performed by technology experts who could provide the mechanics with very specific guidance from the car’s data.  In addition, I had direct access to detail about the operation of my car from monthly reports delivered by OnStar, enabling me to make more informed driving, maintenance and purchase decisions.

Most dealerships weren’t prepared for the rapid shift from servicing mechanical systems to servicing computerized systems.  Referencing my own experience, the independent service shop that had been servicing my other, older car, very quickly transitioned to service all kinds of electric service vehicles.  Their agility in adjusting to new market conditions brought them a whole new set of service opportunities.  The Chevy dealership, on the other hand, created a service vacuum that opened business for others.

The lesson here is to transition rapidly to new market conditions.  Oftentimes, using external resources is the fastest way to transition to a new skillset without taking your eye off operations, without making a giant investment, and while creating a path to incorporating these skills into your standard operating procedures over time. 

During transitions, and as your facility faces learning curve challenges, it makes sense to turn to resources that have the expertise and the tools at hand.  Because external expert resources work with multiple companies, they also bring the benefit of collective perspective, which can be brought to bear on many different types of situations.

In an outsourced model, and specifically in the case of data analytics services, highly experienced and focused data specialists can be responsible for collecting, reviewing and regularly reporting back to facility managers on trends, exceptions, actions to take and potentially developing issues.  These specialists augment the facility manager’s ability to steer his or her data centers through a transition to more software and data intensive systems, without the time hit or distraction of engaging a new set of skills.  Also, as familiarity with using data evolves, the third party can train data center personnel, providing operators with direct access to data and indicative metrics in the short term, while creating a foundation for the eventual onboarding of data analysis operations.  

Data analysis won’t displace existing data center personnel.  It is an additional and critical function that can be supported internally or externally.  Avoiding the use of data to improve data center operations is career-limiting.  Until data analysis skills and tools are embedded within day-to-day operations, hiring a data analysis service can provide immediate relief and help your team transition to adopt these skills over time.  

Why Don’t Data Centers Use Data?

Data analysis doesn’t readily fall into the typical data center operator’s job description.   That fact, and the traditional hands-on focus of those operators, isn’t likely to change soon.

But turning a blind eye or ignoring the floodgate of data now available to data centers through IoT technology, sensors and cloud-based analytics is no longer tenable.  While the data impact of IoT has yet to be truly realized, most data centers have already become too complex to be managed manually.

What’s needed is a new role entirely, one with dotted line/cross-functional responsibility to operations, energy, sustainability and planning teams.

Consider this.  The aircraft industry has historically been driven by design, mechanical and engineering teams.  Yet General Electric aircraft engines, as an example, throw off terabytes of data on every single flight.  This massive quantity of data isn’t managed by these traditional teams.  It’s managed by data analysts who continually monitor this information to assess safety and performance, and update the traditional teams who can take any necessary actions.

Like aircraft, data centers are complex systems.  Why aren’t they operated in the same data-driven way given that the data is available today?

Data center operators aren’t trained in data analysis nor can they be expected to take it on.  The new data analyst role requires an understanding and mastery of an entirely different set of tools.  It requires domain-specific knowledge so that incoming information can be intelligently monitored and triaged to determine what constitutes a red flag event, versus something that could be addressed during normal work hours to improve reliability or reduce energy costs.

It’s increasingly clear that managing solely through experience and physical oversight is no longer best practice and will no longer keep pace with the increasing complexity of modern data centers.  Planning or modeling based only on current conditions – or a moment in time –  is also not sufficient.  The rate of change, both planned and unplanned, is too great.  Data, like data centers, is fluid and multidimensional. 

Beyond the undeniable necessity of incorporating data into day-to-day operations to manage operational complexity, data analysis provides significant value-added benefit by revealing cost savings and revenue generating opportunities in energy use, capacity and risk avoidance.  It’s time to build this competency into data center operations.

Does Efficiency Matter?

Currently, it seems that lots of things matter more than energy efficiency. Investments in reliability, capacity expansion and revenue protection all receive higher priority in data centers than any investment focusing on cutting operating expenses through greater efficiency.

So does this mean that efficiency really doesn’t matter? Of course efficiency matters. Lawrence Berkeley National Labs just issued a data center energy report proving just how much efficiency improvements have slowed the data center industry’s energy consumption; saving a projected 620 billion kWh between 2010 and 2020.

The investment priority disconnect occurs when people view efficiency from the too narrow perspective of cutting back.

Efficiency, in fact, has transformational power – when viewed through a different lens.

Productivity is an area ripe for improvements specifically enabled by IoT and automation. Automation’s impact on productivity often gets downplayed by employees who believe automation is the first step toward job reductions. And sure, this happens. Automation will replace some jobs. But if you have experienced and talented people working on tasks that could be automated, your operational productivity is suffering. Those employees can and should be repurposed for work that’s more valuable. And, as most datacenters run with very lean staffing, your employees are already working under enormous pressure to keep operations working perfectly and without downtime. Productivity matters here as well. Making sure your employees are working on the right, highest impact activities generates direct returns in cost, facility reliability and job satisfaction.

Outsourcing is another target. Outsourcing maintenance operations has become common practice. Yet how often are third party services monitored for efficiency? Viewing the before and after performance of a room or a piece of equipment following maintenance is telling. These details, in context with operational data, can identify where you are over-spending on maintenance contracts or where dollars can be allocated elsewhere for higher benefit.

And then there is time. Bain and Company in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article called time “your scarcest resource,” and as such is a logical target for efficiency improvement.  Here’s an example. Quite often data center staff will automatically add cooling equipment to facilities to support new or additional IT load. A quick and deeper look into the right data often reveals that the facilities can handle the additional load immediately and without new equipment. A quick data dive can save months of procurement and deployment time, while simultaneously accelerating your time to the revenue generated by the additional IT load.

Every time employees can stop or reduce time spent on a low value activity, they can achieve results in a different area, faster. Conversely, every time you free up employee time for more creative or innovative endeavors, you have an opportunity to capture competitive advantage. According to a report by KPMG as cited by the Silicon Valley Beat, the tech sector is already focused on this concept, leveraging automation and machine learning for new revenue advantages as well as efficiency improvements.

“Tech CEOs see the benefits of digital labor augmenting workforce capabilities,” said Gary Matuszak, global and U.S. chair of KPMG’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice.

“The increased automation and machine learning could enable new ways for tech companies to conduct business so they can add customer value, become more efficient and slash costs.”

Investments in efficiency when viewed through the lens of “cutting back” will continue to receive low priority. However, efficiency projects focusing on productivity or time to revenue will pay off with immediate top line effect. They will uncover ways to simultaneously increase return on capital, improve workforce productivity, and accelerate new sources of revenue. And that’s where you need to put your money.

Breaking Down Communication Barriers with IoT

The Internet of Things holds the unprecedented opportunity to improve the long-standing conflict between facilities, IT and sustainability managers.  Traditionally, these three silos are orthogonal, and don’t share each other’s priorities.

Data generated from more granular sensing in data centers reveals information that has traditionally been difficult to access, and not easily shared between groups.  This data can provide both an incentive and a means to work together by establishing a common source for business discussions.  This concept is becoming increasingly important.  As Bill Kleyman said in a Data Center Knowledge article projecting Data Center and Cloud Considerations for 2016: “The days of resources locked in silos are quickly coming to an end.”  We agree.  While Kleyman was referring to architecture convergence in the reference we believe his forecast applies equally forcefully to data.  Multi-group access to more comprehensive data has collaborative power.  IoT contributes to both the generation of such data and the ability to act on it, instantaneously.

Consider the following examples of how IoT operations can accelerate decision-making and collaboration between IT and Facilities.

IT Expansion Deployments

As service shifts to the network edge, or higher traffic is needed for a particular geographic region, IT is usually tasked to identify the most desired sites for these expansions.  In bigger companies, the possible sites can number 50 or more.  IT and Facilities need to quickly determine a short list.

A highly granular view of the actual (versus designed) operating cooling capacity available in each of the considered sites would greatly speed and simplify this selection.  With operating cooling capacity information readily in hand, facilities can easily create a case for the most attractive sites from a cost and time perspective, and/or create a business case for the upgrades necessary to support IT’s expansion deployments.

Data can expose previously hidden or unknowable information.  Capacity planners are provided with the right information for asset deployment in the right places, faster and with less expense.  Everyone gets what they want.

Repurposing capital assets

After airflow is balanced, and redundant or unnecessary cooling is put into standby through automated control, IT and facilities can view the real-time amount of cooling actually available in a particular area.  It becomes easy to identify rooms that have way more cooling than needed.  The surplus cooling units can be moved to a different part of the facility, or to a different site as needed.

IoT powered by smart software can thus expose inefficient capital asset allocation.  Rather than spending money on new capital assets, existing capital can be moved from one place to another.  This has huge and nearly instant financial benefits.  It also establishes a method of cooperation between the facilities team that is maintaining the cooling system and the IT team that needs to deploy additional IT assets and that is tasked with paying for additional cooling.

In both situations, data produced by IoT becomes the arbiter and the language on which the business cases can be focused.

Data essentially becomes the “neutral party.”

All stakeholders can benefit from IoT-produced data to make rational and mutually understood decisions.  As more IoT-based data becomes available, stakeholders who use it to augment their intuition will find that data’s collaborative power is profitable as well as insightful.

IOT: A Unifying Force for the Data Center

A recent McKinsey & Company Global Institute report states that that factories, including industrial facilities and data centers, will receive the lion’s share of value enabled by IoT.  That’s up to $3.7 trillion dollars of incremental value over the next ten years.   Within that focus, McKinsey states that the areas of greatest potential are optimization and predictive maintenance – things that every data center facility manager addresses on a daily basis. The report also states that Industrial IoT (combining the strength of both industry and the Internet) will accelerate global GDP per capita to a pace never seen before during the industrial and Internet revolutions.

The McKinsey study described key enablers required for the success of Industrial IoT as: software and hardware technology, interoperability, security and privacy, business organization and cultural support.  Translated into the requirements for a data center, these are: low power & inexpensive sensors, mesh connectivity, smart software to analyze and act on the data (analytics), standardization and APIs across technology stacks, interoperability across vendors, and ways to share data that retain security and privacy.

Many of these enabling factors are readily available today.  Data centers must have telemetry and communications.  If you don’t have it, you can add it in the form of mesh network sensors.  Newer data centers and equipment will have this telemetry embedded.  The data center industry already has standards that can be used to share data.  Smart software capable of aggregating, analyzing and acting on this data is also available. Security isn’t as well evolved, or understood.  As more data becomes available through the Internet of Things, the network must be secure, private and locked down.

Transitions always involve change, and sometimes challenge the tried and true ways of doing things.  In the case of industrial IoT, I really think that change is good.  Telemetry and analytics reveal previously hidden information and patterns that will help facility professionals develop even more efficient processes.  Alternately, it may help these same professionals prove to their executive management that existing processes are working very well.  The point is that to date, no one has known for sure, because the data just hasn’t been available.

The emergence of IoT in the data center is inevitable, and facility managers who embrace this change and use it to their operational advantage can turn their attention to more strategic projects.

My next blog will address how telemetry and IoT can break down the traditional conflicts between facilities, IT and sustainability managers.

Stay tuned.

Analytics in Action for Data Center Cooling

When a data center is first designed, everything is tightly controlled. Rack densities are all the same. The layout is precisely planned and very consistent. Power and space constraints are well-understood. The cooling system is modeled – sometimes even with CFD – and all of the cooling units operate at the same level.

But the original design is often a short-lived utopia. The realty of most data centers becomes much more complex as business needs and IT requirements change and equipment moves in and out.

As soon as physical infrastructure changes, cooling capacity and redundancy are affected.  Given the complexity of design versus operational reality, many organizations have not had the tools to understand what has changed or degraded, so cannot make informed decisions about their cooling infrastructure. Traditional DCIM products often focus on space, network and power.  They don’t provide detailed, measured data on the cooling system.  So, decisions about cooling are made without visibility into actual conditions.

Analytics can help. Contrary to prevailing views, analytics don’t necessarily take a lot of know-how or data analysis skills to be extremely helpful in day-to-day operations management. Analytics can be simple and actionable. Consider the following examples of how a daily morning glance at thermal analytics helped these data center managers quickly identify and resolve some otherwise tricky thermal issues.

In our first example, the manager of a legacy, urban colo data center with DX CRAC units was asked to determine the right place for some new IT equipment. There were several areas with space and power available, but determining which of these areas had sufficient cooling was more challenging. The manager used a cooling influence map to identify racks cooled by multiple CRACs. He then referenced a cooling capacity report to confirm that more than one of these CRACs had capacity to spare. By using these visual analytics, the manager was able to place the IT equipment in an area with sufficient, and redundant, cooling.

In a second facility, a mobile switching center for a major telco, the manager noticed a hot spot on the thermal map and sent a technician to investigate the location. The technician saw that some of the cooling coils had low delta T even though the valves were open, which implied a problem with the hydronics. Upon physical investigation of the area, he discovered that this was caused by trapped air in the coil, so he bled it off. The delta T quickly went from 3 to 8.5 – a capacity increase of more than 65 percent – as displayed on the following graph:

 

DeltaT

These examples are deceptively simple. But without analytics, the managers would not have been able to as easily identify the exact location of the problem, the cooling units involved, and have enough information to direct trouble-shooting action within the short time needed to resolve problems in a mission critical facility.

Analytics typically use the information already available in a properly monitored data center. They complement the experienced intuition of data center personnel with at-a-glance data that helps identify potential issues more quickly and bypasses much of the tedious, blood pressure-raising and time-consuming diagnostic activities of hotspot resolution.

Analytics are not the future. Analytics have arrived. Data centers that aren’t taking advantage of them are riskier and more expensive to operate, and place themselves at competitive disadvantage

The Fastest Route to Using Data Analysis in Data Center Operations

The transition to data-driven operations within data centers is inevitable.  In fact, it has already begun. With this in mind, my last blog questioned why data centers still resist data use, surmising that because data use doesn’t fall within … [Read more]

Why Don’t Data Centers Use Data?

Data analysis doesn’t readily fall into the typical data center operator’s job description.   That fact, and the traditional hands-on focus of those operators, isn’t likely to change soon. But turning a blind eye or ignoring the floodgate of data … [Read more]

Does Efficiency Matter?

Currently, it seems that lots of things matter more than energy efficiency. Investments in reliability, capacity expansion and revenue protection all receive higher priority in data centers than any investment focusing on cutting operating expenses … [Read more]

Breaking Down Communication Barriers with IoT

The Internet of Things holds the unprecedented opportunity to improve the long-standing conflict between facilities, IT and sustainability managers.  Traditionally, these three silos are orthogonal, and don’t share each other’s priorities. Data … [Read more]

IOT: A Unifying Force for the Data Center

A recent McKinsey & Company Global Institute report states that that factories, including industrial facilities and data centers, will receive the lion’s share of value enabled by IoT.  That’s up to $3.7 trillion dollars of incremental value over … [Read more]

Analytics in Action for Data Center Cooling

When a data center is first designed, everything is tightly controlled. Rack densities are all the same. The layout is precisely planned and very consistent. Power and space constraints are well-understood. The cooling system is modeled – sometimes … [Read more]