Adapting infrastructure following legislative change

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From the IP Act and Brexit, to a new Green Grid performance metric, Future Facilities’ Jon Leppard discusss the potential impact on data centre infrastructure and how to ensure you are prepared.

So far this year, organisations across the UK and Europe have been faced with negotiating a series of legislative and political milestones that could require them to examine and re-evaluate how their data is stored – the implementation of the Investigatory Powers Act (IP Act), and the prospect of Brexit looming on the horizon being the two key factors.

The IP Act grants intelligence agencies an increased ability to access and monitor bulk sets of personal data. But regardless of the controversy that surrounds it, adherence to the Investigatory Powers Act is now a legal requirement for businesses.

Much of the IP Act legislation is concerned with storage and access to data, so any organisation that holds data in the UK will need to revise its strategy in order to comply (and must do so with Brexit front of mind). In particular, businesses that store private data for other companies or individuals, such as colocation providers and ISPs, are likely to require an update to operational strategy. Therefore, it is more important than ever for them to be prepared to react to change, and to react quickly.

The practicalities 

So, what does this mean on a practical level? The first consideration that legislative shift creates for businesses and colocation providers is a potentially significant increase in storage capacity requirements within data centres, to accommodate all the extra data that must be retained for compliance. This requirement for extra space may well eat into reserves, causing the facility to run at a capacity level that an organisation’s existing infrastructure cannot safely support.

To combat this, one option would, of course, be to invest in the construction of new data centres but this could prove to be prohibitively expensive for many businesses. Also,
the need for additional capacity is immediate – the IP Act has already become law, and building new facilities takes time.

Upgrading and making changes to existing infrastructure may be the only option. But this only increases uncertainty and risk for the resilience of the data centre and the energy required to power it.

Businesses are faced with a potentially expensive dilemma – how can they adhere to current legislation, allow for future changes to this legislation and maintain an efficient and resilient facility?

Performance indicators

This is where computational fluid dynamics and engineering simulation can play an important role.

The launch of The Green Grid’s performance indicator last year provided unprecedented insight into the complete workings of the data centre. Building on the success of PUE, the new PI adds two additional dimensions to infrastructure efficiency, measuring how well a data centre’s cooling system does its job under normal circumstances and how well it is designed to withstand failure – key elements that are invaluable when faced with making quick changes to your existing infrastructure to respond to legislation.

Future Facilities worked closely with The Green Grid to develop this new metric, which focuses on three main elements. The first, PUE, focuses on energy efficiency, looking at how effectively the facility is operating in relation to defined energy efficiency ratings. PUE remains a key component in the new tool, allowing facilities to demonstrate their green credentials.

The second, IT thermal conformance, examines how much of the data centre’s IT equipment is operating at recommended inlet air temperatures during normal operation. The ratio helps understand the percentage of IT equipment that is operating at its optimal temperature.

Finally, IT thermal resilience measures the equipment at risk of overheating in the case of a cooling failure or during planned maintenance. It is this final metric that allows facilities managers to understand how their data centre will behave when there is temperature change. This can be done either through measurement, when cooling systems are off or under maintenance, or more effectively and safely through simulation software.

Engineering simulation 

There are four levels of PI, ranging from the basic measured assessment of the current state of the data centre, to the advanced measured assessment of current state and future potential.

Even the most basic deployment of the performance indicator allows for a visualisation of the balance between its three metrics. It empowers organisations with different goals, for those who must prioritise delivering resilience at the expense of efficiency or computing power at the expense of resilience, to quickly identify how they perform against their targets and track performance over time. When simulation is introduced in the third and fourth levels, comparing alternative configurations and predicting how changes will impact each metric becomes a reality. These predictions are only possible thanks to the growing sophistication of computational fluid dynamics pioneered by Future Facilities.

At its most advanced, PI provides a framework to assess the effects of changes before they are implemented, whether from IT deployments or the installation of containment. This gives the ability to understand how safe any IT expansion will be, how to utilise 100% design capacity or run through ‘what if’ scenarios to develop strategies for managing issues before they arise.

Through using PI in conjunction with engineering simulation technology, data centre owner-operators can reclaim unused capacity without increasing risk, and test any potential change to the data centre in a safe, offline environment before it is actioned in a live facility. Doing so means they can generate the extra capacity that legislative changes such as the IP Act (and potentially Brexit) will demand, with the fewest possible negative consequences.

Overarching strategy 

While capacity planning and any practical alterations to infrastructure will fall under the remit of facilities management, it is likely that the IT department will also play a role in formulating the overarching strategy for legislative compliance.

To achieve the smoothest transition possible with minimum disruption, clear interdepartmental communication is required.

For instance, when identifying and purchasing the relevant hardware to improve capacity, it would be mutually beneficial for IT to discuss this with facilities, so that consultancy can be provided in terms of how operational efficiency (and budget) are likely to be effected.

It seems fitting that joined-up thinking, can provide reassurance in the face of an uncertain future

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