Does unreliable, unstable, expensive power keep CIOs up at night?

Energy is weighing heavy on the nation’s conscience: the availability and sustainability of our energy, the cleanliness of our air (think pigeon air patrol), and the potential impact of Brexit to the overall cost of our energy are daily topics of conversation and concern for leaders in the UK. It’s said that leaving the EU could hike consumer power prices alone up by £500 million a year.

CIOs tasked with pushing business innovation in a data-driven economy will soon discover (if they haven’t already) that the power required to support their datacentres isn’t growing at the same rate as the need to process, store, access and gain insight from the vast amounts of data they house. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed and soon. We’re likely to witness increasing numbers of outages impacting businesses – only in February did we see EE customers from London to Glasgow unable to access its 4G network due a datacentre power outage.

As data processing needs continue to accelerate, how we use data is radically changing power consumption. In fact, in the near future a single large high-performance computer (HPC) could use upwards of 20 Megawatts – enough electricity to power a town of 5,000 to 7,000 people.

With this in mind and the building tension between data needs and power capacity, what’s really keeping forward-thinking CIOs up at night?

Capturing the value of data

Enterprises worldwide are finding long-term, strategic business benefits by better analysing and extracting more value from the data they create and gather. Close to 50 per cent of global CIOs interviewed in 2014 indicated they were adopting analytics to maximise this key business asset. With data volumes expected to double approximately every two years, it represents an enormous potential economic value to society worth many millions of pounds. Failing to capture data insights in real-time (when it is most valuable) could see businesses fail.

The crippling cost of power outages

As a result, quick access to critical information is more important than ever before, meaning datacentres are playing a more strategic role in the CIO’s IT strategy. But, if the grid goes down, so too can datacentres – and this can have an immediate financial impact for many companies.
In fact, in 2015 there were 640 reported data centre outages in the UK – up 23.5 per cent from 2014 and 84 per cent from 2010. According to Avaya, network outages like these cost companies an average of £54,750 a year. With figures like these, it’s clear that data centre outages are no longer just an inconvenience but can prove financially damaging to business.

Aging power infrastructure

While datacentre power outages may be a rare occurrence for now, accelerating amounts of data will increase electricity demands on datacentres while power supplies will remain limited, delivered by aging and increasingly fragile power grids. It’s an imbalance already leaving many companies struggling to ensure their IT capabilities can meet the demands of their business.

As data centres put more stress on already brittle power systems, CIOs are not only questioning whether there will be enough electricity, but more importantly, will it be there when their data centre needs it?

So, what is a forward-thinking CIO to do?

First, assess the state-of-play of your power grids: for any location where you have data centre resources, you need to understand the power situation. Arguably, the utility contract may not be part of the CIOs usual remit, but everything the CIO’s office is responsible for relies heavily on the power infrastructure behind it. To overlook this, is to overlook the infrastructure of your IT and, ultimately, your business.

Secondly, based on a grid outage, think about the cost of downtime associated with the applications in those data centres and how that could impact your business in terms of operational and opportunity cost. Proactively planning the disaggregation of your data to ensure the information you can’t live without will never go off, can help you lower the risk of outages before they occur.

Finally, consider the applications you have running at each location. Some applications, like financial trading, will dictate location based on latency, resiliency and other requirements, but many others won’t. Some applications have high-compute power requirements, but low latency or resiliency needs. Applications such as data analytics, HPC and scientific computing might be ideal to move to a location with a more stable power grid as a way to minimise your total risk exposure from a fragile or limited capacity grid.

At the moment, it may not be that power is keeping the average CIO up at night. But for the forward-thinker, who understands not only the IT implications, but also the business impact of an outage, this is front of mind. The ability to succeed or fail with the projects they know are driving their business forward only works if all the variables are factored in, especially those specific to the application and the underlying support systems (including power) that make it possible. They say knowledge is power, and in this instance, that’s certainly the case.

Jorge Balcells, Director of Technical Services at Verne Global