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The three IoTs of the data centre

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Enzo Greco, chief strategy officer for Nlyte Software outlines the three IoTs of the data centre and what they mean.

Data centre professionals have always used a type of IoT; they had to, given the heterogeneity of their environment. Not surprisingly, data centres are now at the forefront of the IoT movement. But IoT presents itself to the data centre in different ways. The data centre professional needs to see IoT within, across, and outside in. Let’s consider each of these in turn.

Within the data centre – a battleground

The battle-hardened data centre veteran knows that the data centre is a hostile environment consisting of many thousands of equipment items from many vendors, many of which were not designed to work together.

Inconsistent equipment behaviour (e.g. the same model UPS from the same provider manufactured at different times can behave differently) and differing protocols, data semantics (is that value Watts or Kilowatts?) and security mechanisms, result in an environment which quickly forms a vortex of complexity, defying easy management.

Providers and advanced users have responded by creating an abstraction layer atop hardware to normalise the differences, allowing equipment to share information and state with higher level monitoring and control systems in a somewhat standard way.

This is a lot like…IoT. Yet, this ad-hoc approach comes with a well-understood downside: this often doesn’t scale because every item of equipment requires investment to define and test the right adapter, which are brittle as they are often created empirically and rely on data streams and behaviour specific to a model, type or serial number. It is not uncommon for new firmware versions to change the behaviour of the unit.

So what IoT has promised the data centre is an answer to complexity and silos through drop and play functionality for equipment and critical infrastructure, with:

  • Standard interfaces and adapters
  • Well defined and expected behaviour
  • Extensibility and flexibility for management and control

Increased standardisation and interoperability across the many different systems and providers in the data centre, resulting in streamlined deployment, greater choice and new functionality, is the goal.

Across the data centre – including edge and colo

With the emergence of edge data centres and various cloud and colocation options, a much larger and richer topology needs to be considered than the confines of the building. Edge data centres must be incorporated into the larger computing fabric. Colo facilities hold valuable equipment and computing power which need to be optimally used, which can’t happen if they are siloed. 

Further, federation and aggregation of data centre monitoring, control and reporting must span all facilities, from core to colo to edge. Monitoring and control of remote facilities, where the luxury of walking the aisles doesn’t exist, is especially important given their outsized growth.

Achieving any of these goals requires effective communication across many differing nodes and must encompass a rich set of equipment within those nodes, down to the component. Why shouldn’t we know how much storage or networking capacity we have across allour computing fabric? How much thermal capacity exists, and what’s its status and efficiency at any given time? The professional needs to know to better serve the business.

It is IoT that provides an ideal mechanism for linking together the many different nodes and devices within a rich data centre topology. It is lightweight and open, can easily accommodate any type of device or data, has a wealth of tools and platforms, and the industry has started to provide purpose-built equipment such as IoT gateways for aggregating and transmitting IoT packets quickly and securely.

From the outside in and vice versa

The most intriguing use of IoT regarding data centres involves ‘outside in’ data. Consider the case of ‘Smart Cities’, one of the hottest areas of public investment: They both generate and consume a tremendous amount of environmental, temporal and spatial data; sensors need to be placed at well-defined and known locations; and numerous other systems, such as emergency response, need to be incorporated.

The resulting ‘intelligent grid’ ultimately will be managed by data centres, likely via geographically dispersed edge facilities cooperating with core data centres. The ideal communication mechanism for this grid, anchored by computing facilities? IoT.

There are numerous other examples of very high scale, wide-area, lightweight devices driving traffic into data centres for optimal outcomes. Think of smart homes: When the numerous smart devices in our homes need to communicate with our utility to allow them to manage electrical supply better, it’s IoT that makes it happen.

As devices evolve from novelty to utility, from light switch to industrial control, they will flow an ever-growing amount of increasingly critical information up to data centres for processing. This will further drive growth in data centres and their rich topology, within, across and outside in.

This needs a careful eye on the assets and configuration of the infrastructure. This must be the main basis for all planning in the well-run data centre of any business looking to maintain an effective service delivery in a world of smart technology and constant connectivity.

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