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Three ways maintenance innovation is giving data centre operators the edge

Fri 30 Aug 2019 | Sean Sears

Predictive hardware monitoring, resource efficiency and innovative staffing models are all driving competitive advantage, writes Sean Sears, managing director EMEA at Park Place Technologies

Innovation is central to the technology field. The focus, however, tends to be on the latest hardware products, such as hyperconverged systems, or shifting models like the software-defined data centre (SDDC).

But what about day-to-day maintenance and management—those “keeping the lights on” functions that can eat up 80 percent of IT spending? Can they be modernised, optimised, and enhanced with new technologies and approaches?

Fortunately, innovation has reached the data centre maintenance space. There are numerous emerging methods to transform the foundations of data centre management—and many of them are already highly accessible.

Monitoring innovations maximise performance and uptime

Among the most exciting developments in data centre maintenance is predictive hardware monitoring. The advances are currently rooted in machine learning (ML) algorithms and will eventually lead to true AI solutions.

Data centres are great places to apply ML and AI. These facilities generate massive volumes of data, which will only increase in the coming years. ML thrives on such data to derive unexpected insights. Built into remote monitoring systems, ML solutions can—and are—predicting equipment faults and enabling a better type of support.

No longer must data centre managers react to the latest emergency or even rely on scheduled maintenance; they can take a truly proactive stance as ML systems flag and triage potential sources of downtime before it happens.

Data-driven analysis and ML-based monitoring are slashing unnecessary maintenance in favour of fewer, faster, more accurately targeted interventions, while simultaneously increasing uptime and ensuring optimal performance.

With customers’ expectations rapidly escalating, these tools help keep pace with the digital enterprise—delivering six-nines availability while limiting financial and staffing investment.

As powerful as today’s solutions are, the maintenance industry is already looking forward to doing even more with the granular facility, equipment, and conditions-specific information soon to be available. These developments will be paired with increasingly automated, AI-driven support solutions.

Resource efficiency and the Eco-design Directive

Minimising the environmental footprint is another goal for the data centre industry—and for good reason. European data centres used 130TWh of electricity in 2017, which represented a 25 percent increase over three years before. The focus to date has been facilities management, with efforts to lower air con use, for example, and drive down power usage effectiveness.

“MSPs will direct available IT talent to market needs in a more targeted fashion than traditional staffing solutions can”

To this end, leaders such as Google are applying AI-based systems, taking into account ambient temperatures, due point, fan speeds, and more, to reduce energy use by as much as 40 percent.

With the recent expansion of the European Union’s Eco-Design Directive to include limits on server power consumption in the idle state, attention is turning to data centres’ hardware assets.

Although there are substantial manufacturing implications for the Directive, for data centre managers, it will be primarily a procurement consideration. As sale of certain equipment is phased out starting in March 2020, companies will need to invest in products meeting the new standard whenever they upgrade.

As important as adapting to EU regulations may be, true innovation is pushing beyond what government bodies demand. In fact, idle-state energy use limits were targeted specifically because of a shortcoming that today’s data centres are striving to overcome. Average server utilisation in Europe remains in the 15 percent to 25 percent range. And idle servers do more than drain electricity by way of their power cords; they take up real estate, require cooling infrastructure to run, and eventually must be upgraded.

The Eco-Design Directive will help shape the manufacturing phase of the product lifecycle, but data centre managers have far more options to enhance resource efficiencies during the use phase. For example, AI-based load balancers promise to boost server utilisation rates and optimise workloads based on equipment energy use, in addition to other factors such as network performance.

Alternative maintenance providers are also helping to extend hardware lifespan with affordable, effective support options for older equipment, helping to limit reliance on newly manufactured machines and their accompanying environmental costs.

Spanning the talent gap

Innovation is about more than technology. The right business, operating, and staffing models are essential. Given the severe talent gap in the sector, new approaches are needed to ensure enterprises can access relevant technical expertise, as needed, when there is no guarantee of being able maintain a full IT bench. Moreover, the channel has been evolving with more centralised support roles, thereby opening the door to other options.

These parallel trends are leading enterprises to fully tap managed service providers (MSPs), which have themselves become more customer-facing. There is an increasing level of integration between in-house technology teams and MSP resources, and smart IT leaders are using outsourced assets in a strategic manner to leverage complementary skill sets and enhance human resource efficiencies.

It’s all about competitive advantage

The technology industry will continue to shift as companies endeavour to outperform competitors. Marshalling AI to maximise uptime, drive efficiencies in data centre facilities, and balance workloads will have great value. Accurate, predictive maintenance solutions will help reduce the need for hardware redundancies, and longer product lifecycles will slash capital expenditures in an environmentally friendly manner. Finally, MSPs will direct available IT talent to market needs in a more targeted fashion than traditional staffing solutions can.

At the end of the day, all of these innovations will save money and deliver better pricing, higher availability and enhance performance, which customers will notice.

Experts featured:

Sean Sears

Managing Director EMEA
Park Place Technologies

Tags:

machine learning maintenance
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