Data centers fall into a growing contracting niche; the publication of TIA/EIA 942, Data Center Standard, in April 2005 shed some light into the caveats associated with this kind of work. The nuances of the specialized environment have become an issue for electrical contractors as more companies are taking the data center route. Electrical contractors have found themselves thrust into data center projects, regardless of what kinds of work they initially intended for their business.
As data centers continue to dominate the IT market, eat up floor space and suck up large percentages of operating budgets with high power consumption, some people are turning to blade servers. Many contractors, however, see them as bad for business.
A blade server is the newest version of a traditional rack mount server, which has worked well until this point. As required computing power has dramatically risen and available floor space has decreased, blade servers seem to be the solution. Other advantages include a fast processing speed and a lowered price.
Data center administrators and owners are opting for the blade approach because it helps stave off cable sprawl and make better use of floor space, since it can be popped right into chassis to which the Ethernet and fiber cabling runs. In the past, each server would get its own power and cabling runs, but multiple blade servers can operate off of one cabling run. For example, seven server cabling runs can drop to one with a 7U blade center chassis, cutting the work load down substantially.
Most statistics regarding blade servers tout their ability to lower operating costs within the data center. One figure that has made waves states that blade server installations alone cost about 85 percent less than their traditional rack-mounted server counterparts. The majority of that reduction comes because the inherent design requires less cabling.
Contractors may have to become more service- and solution-oriented when dealing with customers in the data center market. Even though less cabling and wiring is necessary, there is ample opportunity for more service-oriented contracts such as energy assessments, security and access control and power-consumption management.
Because blade servers have become important in data center projects, contractors can recoup business by becoming knowledgeable about data center environments. Service, routine maintenance, power consumption and network assessment are still problems that need electrical contractors’ attention.
Also, hot aisle/cool aisle setups are becoming increasingly common as a direct result of blade servers. Contractors’ expertise in power requirements may be more important than ever before.
Data centers remain big consumers and users of electricity and voice and data cabling. In addition, they are also prime targets for the ever-important maintenance contract, which could span numerous systems and provide work for years to come.
Contractors need to become better at selling outside of their traditional comfort zone, especially if they are interested in working in niche markets such as data centers. Optimistically speaking, however, more contractors can find ample work in data center environments than ever before, even with the increased adoption of blade servers. EC
STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached via e-mail at JenLeahS@msn.com.