Data Centers: Retrofit or Replace?

Nov. 29, 2012
Industry leaders provide insight.

Is your data center approaching capacity? Or are you searching for cost savings?

Greater efficiency is the answer to both questions – but when is a replacement better than a retrofit? Below, Emerson Network Power and Schneider Electric offer tips on how to tell the difference.

When to Retrofit
If efficiency and capacity are your major complaints, consider a retrofit, advises Peter Panfil, vice president of global power for Emerson. This option is less expensive by far than building a new data center, and bringing the building’s contents up to date could help extend the center’s life.

“Today, a new data center could cost in the range of $17 million per megawatt, with ways to push this down to $12 million per megawatt – for example, through uninterruptible power supply (UPS) improvements,” Panfil explains. “A retrofit will run 25 to 40% of the new-build cost.”

Upgrading aging cooling, power, and IT systems as they near the end of their useful life helps recover capacity that you can then allocate elsewhere, notes Ellen Kotzbauer, Schneider’s segment manager for the U.S. federal government.

For example, UPS systems are often installed and forgotten, but they consume considerable energy. ENERGY STAR now certifies the most efficient UPS products, making selection easier.

Temperature and airflow management benefit from variable frequency drives that match fan output to the load of electric motor-driven devices, as well as controls that monitor server conditions and network cooling units so they work together as a system, Kotzbauer adds.

When to Replace
Despite the higher cost, a replacement may be the best choice in certain situations, Panfil notes. A major retrofit is conducted in a live data center, and if your data center is near or at capacity, it can be difficult to accomplish an efficiency upgrade without jeopardizing availability. You might be better served by a new data center if:

  1. The existing space can’t handle new, more efficient equipment.
  2. T he data center has run out of space but can be used as a disaster recovery site.
  3. Your organization has multiple data centers and wants to improve utilization. In this case, you can gradually consolidate all of the centers into a new, highly efficient one.

When to Do Neither
If neither a new data center nor a retrofit are possible right now, consider a collocation facility, Panfil recommends. These facilities offer overflow containment and demand management for your IT requirements. Use collocation for less critical applications, such as email, and keep the most critical core applications in-house, Panfil adds.

Building additional space onto your existing center can help if this option is available, as can deploying a containerized or modular center for your high-density applications. Containers can be equipped with the newest, most efficient technologies and offer lower cost and risk than either a retrofit or replacement.

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