Now that the holidays are over and the minds of many are moving from gifts and celebrations to the responsibilities of the new year, data center budgeting and how to save precious funds is one area of focus. The economy remains shaky, energy prices are likely to continue rising and demand for data center and IT services shows no signs of slackening. Although each company has its own unique priorities for its IT infrastructure, the following are a number of critical areas that are worth reviewing for the year ahead.
Areas for Data Center Budgeting
Beware—but don’t ignore—the cloud. It’s been a growing blip on the IT radar for some years now: the cloud. Proponents tout its ostensible benefits, such as reduced capital expenses and overall cost savings. Some questions exist as to whether you can really save money by moving to the cloud, but many companies can benefit by relying on the cloud to some extent (meaning some level of cloud use between complete reliance on in-house IT and complete outsourcing to the cloud). A variety of cloud services are available, and you don’t need to jump in wholesale—try cloud storage for a portion of your data, for instance. When you’re data center budgeting, don’t just assume that you’re going to save money by switching to the cloud—leave a little leeway for initial costs, the learning curve and so forth.
Energy will cost you. If you own or operate a data center and are privy to utility bills, then you don’t need to be told that you’ll probably be spending more on energy in 2012 compared with previous years. With the cost of energy rising (likely through a combination of inflation and growing demand) and demand for IT services on the rise generally, you should plan to cough up more funds to your utility company. You may be able to take some steps to increase your energy efficiency and thereby take a bite out of cost increases this year, but if, like most companies, you’ll be expanding your IT infrastructure, plan to pay higher operating costs as you grow.
Supporting infrastructure can save you money in the long term. You’ve probably heard the adage “work smarter, not harder.” It applies to the data center as well, and one way to work smarter is to implement a system that monitors and collects data on your facility. Data center infrastructure management (DCIM), for instance, is a hot topic in the industry; DCIM equipment and software allows you to better govern and protect your resources, often through a “single pane of glass,” in addition to remote access. But this approach isn’t free—you’ll need to purchase, install and learn to use it. Consider leaving room for DCIM when data center budgeting, facility monitoring and data analytics; if these systems are implemented properly, you can quickly recover your capital costs and create room in your budget for other priorities.
You need to pay to secure your IT resources. Unfortunately, people are out to get you (and your data center). And, also unfortunate is the fact that you must spend money to protect yourself from malicious parties. Your data center budget should reflect the importance of security to keeping your facility running and to protecting your (and your customers’) data. There’s no single fix for all your security problems: it’s an ongoing conflict as malware becomes more complicated in response to better security measures, and so on. Your budget should always allocate sufficient funds to both implement and maintain the necessary security measures: firewalls, anti-malware and site security, for instance. If your company is high profile or if you are keeping highly sensitive information, you’ll need to give security greater leeway when data center budgeting. Even if your company is not so high profile and you could care less if someone saw your data, however, you still need to protect yourself from malware that could damage or destroy your equipment.
Maintenance is worth the cost. Data center maintenance—like security—is one of those things you hate to spend money on (sort of like insurance), as it doesn’t give you more infrastructure to serve your customers, it provides no real business return and it just seems (when things are running smoothly) to be a waste of time and funds. But when a server or backup generator fails because you didn’t maintain it properly, you quickly realize the benefits of maintenance. The losses that mount in the wake of a facility outage can quickly exceed the relatively minor maintenance costs that would likely have prevented the failure. Let your budget reflect the importance of a smoothly running data center: leave sufficient room for maintenance, whether using in-house or contracted personnel. Much of maintenance is a matter of employee time rather than company funds, but if you value uptime, you should allocate a reasonable portion of your fiscal pie to keeping your data center operating correctly and efficiently.
Saving Money in the Data Center
Maybe your budget doesn’t leave room for everything you want to fit into it. All is not lost—you can take steps in a number of areas to make more room by increasing efficiency and otherwise saving money. The following are a few suggestions.
Keep on consolidating. Maybe you’ve already disposed of an unused (or highly underutilized) server or two already. Great. But don’t stop there. Keep an eye out for equipment that serves no purpose other than to consume space and energy, and when you find it, get rid of it with prejudice (or, at least, unplug it). If you have multiple data centers that could better function as fewer (or even one) data centers, consider shuffling operations to use fewer resources. Here, DCIM and resource monitoring can help you determine what parts of your facility are underperforming.
Virtualize. Virtualization has probably reached the “dead horse” stage, but it can still be an effective strategy for increasing efficiency (and making room for consolidation) when implemented properly. It requires an initial investment and should not be done haphazardly (and, depending on your area of business, it may be more or less effective), but the return on investment can create significant room in your budget.
Turn up the thermostat. This is another one that you may be sick of hearing about, but don’t ignore it. You may be able to save tremendously by simply adjusting the thermostat to reduce your cooling burden; another option (possibly in tandem with higher operating temperatures) is free cooling. Care is, of course, required in implementing this strategy, but when you turn up your thermostat, you are automatically reducing your energy bill. If you need help in this area, check out ASHRAE’s website.
For goodness sake, clean up a bit. You probably hate cleaning—most people do. But it can do wonders in your data center. Not only does removing clutter and contaminants (like dust) aid in airflow and protect electronic equipment, it creates an environment more amenable to employee productivity and respect. If things look good and are in order, folks are more likely to take care of them than if they are surrounded by junk and covered in dust and old coffee rings. Seeing the benefits in your ledger may be a little difficult, but they’ll be there.
Data center budgeting and saving money go hand in hand. Depending on your business and what you’ve already accomplished in your facility, some of these suggestions may be more relevant than others. Whatever the case, keep your eyes open for opportunities to save money in your data center—your budget will thank you.