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Why simulation is key to smart data centre management

Fri 9 Nov 2018 | Jonathan Leppard

Future Facilities

For the people that run data centres, the constant barrage of tools, technologies and processes designed to improve its running can be overwhelming. Specifically for colo facilities, managing these constant developments is a priority as businesses increasingly transition out of existing enterprise establishments.

Simulation models represent one of these approaches. Perhaps seen by many as the younger sibling of monitoring and DCIM technologies, the technology has arguably been considered a ‘nice-to-have’ optional extra – until now.

As a leader in the data centre simulation software, Future Facilities thinks it shouldn’t be that way and is betting that simulation can change and improve the way data centres are run, all the way from design and into operations.

The company believes that the successful design and operation of systems, from chip to data centre, lies in predicting the impact of change. Following this philosophy, it relies on virtual prototyping to assess performance through the creation of a data centre digital twin.

A digital twin can encompass the entire IT infrastructure and help predict the impact of any change in a facility. The technology is therefore an extremely useful communication tool and can provide solutions throughout the data centre lifecycle, rather than fixing problems as they arise.

What is a data centre for?

Before we look further into these solutions, we have to consider an important question: what is the ultimate purpose of the data centre? Realistically, a data centre exists to serve the business.

This means data centres can be very different depending on the business they’re serving. Colos focus on power and space, while data centres for banks prioritise processing power and resilience for fast response times – and then you have massive hyperscale sites built by the likes of Microsoft.

This change in computing needs has triggered the advent of high density equipment, which will change the way data centres are currently managed. In the future, we can expect data centres to be highly automated, but to get there it is essential that a digital twin exists.

It’s a very rarely asked question – do I have the airflow to go with that power and space?

What better way of providing that data than through simulation tools? If you simulate situations up front, providing parameters for self-learning systems, they can then make internal changes and solve problems without the need for an engineer.

The IT and facilities silo

There is currently a substantial wall between the IT and facilities teams in most organisations. IT dictates what goes into the data centre; they’ll get an order, they’ll specify 50KW of servers (for example), and they ask FM to provide the necessary power and cooling to run the IT safely.

The IT team can see that the power and space is available, and from that point onwards it’s up to the facilities team. But that’s a problem. IT only sees power and space – the tangible factors. Cooling (volume and temperature of air) is equally as important and, Future Facilities believes it has to have equal prominence alongside those tangible factors. It’s a very rarely asked question – do I have the airflow to go with that power and space?

Making the unseen, seen

When facilities are first built, operators pay close attention to cooling and airflow distribution, but the design model does not always necessarily represent the actual IT equipment that will eventually reside in the data centre.

DCIM systems… tell you when things are going wrong – but at that point it’s already too late to prevent losses

Space, power and cooling are all finite resources in a data centre. However, while you can count available rack space and report the facility’s remaining available power, there’s no way to quantify when your cooling isn’t sufficient. The only way you’ll know you’ve reached capacity is when new deployments begin causing overheating issues.

That’s where simulation comes in. Simulation tools allow you to calculate and visualise the distribution of airflow, turning it into a tangible resource that can be accounted for in the same way as space and power. Taking cooling into consideration allows your data centres to work to a much higher capacity. The team at Future Facilities believe that this is ultimately because humans are more comfortable with things they can see, feel and touch.

Not only can simulation help you see the unseen, it can help you predict the unknown. Data centre facilities often won’t change for ten years, but over that time the IT inside them will change dramatically. Simulation can predict the effects of these IT changes and can help you make far more informed decisions about the future.

You may be wondering; why opt for a simulation product when monitoring can achieve these goals? Future Facilities believes that monitoring works to an extent: it makes sure things are working correctly at the current point in time. It can also predict to a degree, but its predictions are based on historical information – and past performance is no guarantee of future results. DCIM systems, for instance, tell you when things are going wrong – but at that point it’s already too late to prevent losses.

IT teams and facilities teams need to work together, and monitoring and simulation need to work together too

Simulation can also allow for greater planning of customer deployments, ensuring SLAs and due diligence are adhered to, and helping to deliver optimum performance out of the data centre where every square foot is worth money.

A joined-up approach

The best approach is to combine simulation and monitoring. Simulation isn’t designed to alert you to basic issues like a fan going down; it’s about calculating if your data centre can cope with the situations that DCIM monitors, and telling you how much time you have to deal with any situation that might arise.

Adding simulation to monitoring is particularly key for environments such as colos where changing the environment on one side of the room could affect a temperature sensor on the other side, breaking the SLA. By simulating prior to the change, managers can more effectively make the right decision to protect revenue and reputation.

This is why integration is so crucial. IT teams and facilities teams need to work together, and monitoring and simulation need to work together too. Future Facilities prides itself on the ability to integrate with existing monitoring systems and improve on these using their own tools, allowing them to correct mistakes and make huge capacity improvements.

What’s more, as data centre managers try and get their heads around new trend spaces such as edge computing, simulation, and take a smarter approach to looking after the data centre, isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’ optional extra for the future  – it’s an essential now.

Experts featured:

Jonathan Leppard

Future Facilities


colocation Data Centre data centre management DCIM digital twin simulation
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