The growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), mobility and big data, as well as other data- and processing-intensive applications and technologies, is giving data centers a profile that they never had before.
Simply put, the amount of data that must be stored, trafficked and processed is growing exponentially.
CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) is a major data center company. It currently controls 2.62 million square feet of "raised floor space" in North American, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Last month, CenturyLink released an update on its data centers, which included expansions, new facilities and a significant increase in its overall capacity.
CenturyLink's Chip Freund, director of product marketing for colocation, spoke to Telco Transformation about the company's progress and the trends driving its strategy.
Telco Transformation: What are the highlights of CenturyLink's update?
Chip Freund: This announcement detailed or listed additions of 14 megawatts of critical capacity across eight data centers and highlights the capacity we've added over the past five years. During those years, we added capacity in 39 data centers, including the addition of 11 data centers. It is around 3,000 cabinets worth of power capacity, assuming a 4-kilowatt cabinet.
TT: Where is the growth coming from?
CF: The growth is from a variety of places. A lot of it is coming from the cloud and the software-as-a-service space. Cloud and software providers are building out in our data centers and taking fairly large chunks of capacity. We also have enterprises of all sizes. Some customers are taking something as small as a single cabinet. Some are taking a large amount of capacity to support their growing IT infrastructures. As things such as big data and the IoT find their way into business models across many industries, it drives data they use and compute power needed to manage it. It all needs to live somewhere.
TT:: Is the rate of change accelerating or staying steady?
CF: The rate of change is not significantly altering.
TT: Did you add a data center last year?
CF: In 2015 our only new data center was in Moses Lake, Washington. Eighty-five percent of its electricity is hydroelectric generated. That is the largest percentage of hydroelectricity going into any multi-tenant data center in the US today.
TT: How are you driving reliability?
CF: The other update on our progress is toward gaining the Uptime Institutes' Maintenance and Operation (M&O) Stamp of Approval. Uptime, as most folks in the data center world know, established a tier structure several years ago that defines levels of resiliency. Tiers 3 and 4 are the most resilient. In the past few years they've taken the data gathered over the last couple of decades and found that 70% of all data center outages are caused by human error.
TT: That's a big number. How do you lower that?
CF: No matter how resilient you design or build a data center, you may still go down if there are no effective procedures and practices in place. The M&O Stamp of Approval program provides the needed benchmarking to assure that an organization is in fact running the data center in an effective manner to minimize if not eliminate human-error-caused outages. At the end of 2014 CenturyLink made a commitment to have all its data centers M&O-certified by the end of 2016. We provided an update that we are more than halfway through that process, with more than 30 facilities now having received the M&O Stamp of Approval. That is the largest number of facilities worldwide [from one company].
TT: What is the impact of the move towards virtualization for CenturyLink?
CF: There is very much a move toward virtualization. Virtualization from a data center perspective increases the density of power per rack in the data center. We are absolutely seeing that. You can add capacity by adding more square footage and bringing more electric power capacity in or by improving efficiency, which in turn enables power to be used for virtualized services that had been used for such things as cooling. We go down both paths. It is not either/or. We will add raised floor space and bring in additional power for that. We also add incrementally to existing raised floors through the improved efficiency of cooling.
TT: It doesn't sound easy.
CF: One of the challenges faced by colocation providers is that they have to deliver power and cooling and accommodate a variety of different customers with a variety of configurations. One could be high-performance, high-density computing and the one next to it a more traditional model with a lower density footprint. We manage that on a data center by data center basis.
TT: What power trends do you see?
CF: The overall trend we are seeing is customers going to denser power configurations. Some of that is driven by implementation of virtualized solutions including private cloud. We've been able to drive a power density improvement in data centers during the last two-and-a-half years of 34%. Today we are able to pack one-third more power into the same space compared to two-and-a-half years ago. We did that by implementing high-efficiency cooling technology and rolling out integrated wireless temperature and humidity sensors in more places to get a more accurate read of inlet temperature into customer equipment and therefore be better able to tune our cooling environment.
TT: What are customers doing with the capacity?
CF: We have colocation customers and therefore do not always have visibility into what applications and workloads they are running. With that qualifier, my anecdotal experience is that we are seeing more and more private clouds as well as expansion of big data deployments. There is significant need for storage and compute power to analyze it all.
TT: What is the constraining element in a data center?
CF: For data center capacity, it's a three-legged stool: power, cooling and the physical space. Any one of those three can be the constraining factor. It will depend on the individual facility. As we look to expand we look at each facility and make the appropriate decision. For instance, suppose in a particular facility there is adequate floor space but not adequate power. We ask, "Can we add power?" If the answer is yes, you need the appropriate UPS and the backup generators behind that. As you are driving more power onto that raised floor, there is more heat. So you look at the cooling piece of the equation. That could be another chiller or upgrading older equipment to be more efficient.
TT: Is CenturyLink going to throw a data center in the ocean, like Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) did with Project Natick?
CF: It's pushing the envelope overall for data center technology and looking at problems in a new way. Is everyone going to [do what Microsoft did]? Probably not. But these are things that help the industry learn and things it benefits from.
TT: How modular is CenturyLink?
CF: We started deploying modular solutions in 2014 in our Phoenix data centers. We got them from Baselayer, which originally was part of IO. They recently spun it off. There definitely is a market for it. It has the capability to drive greater density and efficiency. It is particularly good for customers looking for high-performance computing, which leads to higher densities. I would add that we tend to build in a modular fashion.
— Chip Freund, director of product marketing for colocation, CenturyLink