The tiny DCs packing a punch

The tiny DCs packing a punch

Chris Wellfair, projects director at Secure I.T. Environments Ltd talks about some of the key considerations when selecting the right small form factor data centre, and outlines just what can be achieved in such a small space.

Micro data centres have been around for some time, and perhaps unfairly have been compared to the comms cabinets of the 1970s and 80s. Many assume they are little more than a modern cable distribution cabinet, as would have been seen housing 19U racks from old PABX systems!

It is now possible to squeeze so much compute power into a small space, that a room or series of large cabinets may be overkill for your data centre goals. Smaller form factors offer many advantages in overcoming site location and budget challenges, along with rapid build times and lower running costs.

Processing power alone is not the only consideration when designing a data centre, and this is perhaps where the new breed of micro data centres, which themselves come in a range of sizes, surprise customers.

These small data centres include all the same technology that would be expected in a dedicated data centre or larger facility including cooling, environmental monitoring, UPS, CCTV/Access control and even fire suppression. All this in cabinets starting at just 24U in height.

A direct liquid cooled micro data centre can handle as much as 80kw, which is impressive, but only if you need to handle that load – small units starting at a height of 24U can handle up to 7kw, and still retain the same support technology. 

These new options, sometimes referred to as Nano and Pico data centres, mean that fully functional and resilient data centres can be hidden away into tiny spaces and disguised to sympathetically fit into an open office environment.  Units can even be IP66 rated so they can be located outside if required.

Cabinets can also be custom designed to ensure they are sympathetic to their environment, with custom colours, logos, or even artwork to make them a feature of a room. 

Regardless of the small data centre option you choose, they still require some serious thought to ensure the best outcome, especially if being used in multiple locations across a site. Here are my top tips for planning small form factor data centres:

Workloads

Start by thinking about the workloads you need this new data centre to undertake. How critical is it to business operations or does it need access to other IT infrastructure that should be in the same cabinet for performance? 

If there will be multiple workloads running, is there risk associated with them being in the same cabinet, if for example a power failure would occur what would the consequences be?

You must also remember that the cabinet may need to house its own UPS, which depending on the uptime it must maintain, could also take up valuable cabinet U space – has this been allowed for?

Cabinet distribution

It may be limitations on the buildings you operate from that have made a small data centre the right option for you. For example, installing any kind of data centre on a site with listed status can be very complex, or impossible. 

A Micro, Nano, or Pico size unit can overcome this, but you must consider how you will interconnect if more than one micro data centre is on site, for example across several floors or buildings. You may need to distribute units in a specific way to ensure resilience, for example not putting them in basements to avoid flood risk.  

Another consideration, particularly for listed buildings, is whether Wi-Fi is readily available? Well placed micro-data centre cabinets can provide the perfect opportunity to create a strong dead-spot free Wi-Fi network for staff and visitors, that makes no changes to the physical structure of the building.

Cooling requirements

As anyone that works in an office will tell you, the temperature can vary wildly between seasons and even from one room to the next. This is not just a factor of the building, but whether staff open/close windows and adjust the temperature if they have the option. 

For small data centres this presents a unique challenge given the level of environmental control we are used to having in larger dedicated DC settings. It is possible to get that same level of control, but during specification it is important to understand the environment the cabinets will need to operate in and across what ranges. 

Also, what is the makeup of the air?  It is possible that particulates from a manufacturing process may mean specialist filtering is needed as well as a well-managed maintenance regime.

Sound pollution

Think about who is going to be working near your micro data centre and for how long. A cabinet may not seem very loud to you, but you are around that sound all day.

For somebody trying to do a job where they need intense periods of concentration or perhaps make constant phone calls, the sound of active IT equipment can be both distracting and invasive. 

There are some fantastic acoustic cabinets on the market that overcome these issues in a small size, so don’t discount them – choosing the right cabinet can make all the difference.

Conclusion

Micro, Nano and Pico data centres can help overcome many challenges without any need to compromise on technology.  Small form factors demand a different approach towards assessing risks, but that should not put anyone off considering these solutions. The technology has come on a great deal, and implemented well, is cost-effective and highly flexible.