Managing Servers—Lessons from the Enterprise Data Center

IT pros are using built-in server features to speed response time and reduce total cost of ownership. By Jeff Klaus

Compared with their enterprise counterparts, IT teams supporting SMBs are typically more constrained by budget and headcount when asked to innovate around new opportunities. This interplay between doing additional, innovative work with fewer resources requires SMB teams to be smart, agile, and knowledgeable.

So SMBs are following in the footsteps of enterprises by fully leveraging built-in server features that speed response time and reduce total cost of ownership. Two of these features are remote management and energy management, which contribute to the extended lifespan of servers and minimize business disruptions due to server failures. Small IT organizations that take advantage of these features can maximize the value of their servers while saving themselves time to focus on supporting services and revenue.

Remote KVM Capabilities
Decades have passed since the first keyboard, video, and mouse (KVM) switches were invented. Even so, many IT teams cannot afford the dedicated hardware. A KVM overlay network also raises energy costs and increases complexity. Software KVM solutions have helped smaller organizations centralize support, but such software has traditionally been bundled into best-in-class consoles and platforms that do not fit SMB budgets.

Fortunately, firmware-based KVM capabilities are being embedded directly into servers. Virtualized KVM software leverages the embedded features to make remote monitoring viable for SMBs. A small, central IT team or MSP can remotely connect to any network endpoint without additional hardware. In addition to providing visibility and control, the virtual KVM solutions introduce one-to-many connectivity and make it easier—and more affordable—to keep up with new servers, systems, and interfaces.

Another built-in server feature, real-time power consumption reporting, is yielding significant cost savings. IT can quickly determine where the energy budget is going and can log the data to build a knowledge base for planning purposes.

With real-time power data, IT can help the business reduce its monthly energy bill. Considering that an average of 10 to 15 percent of all servers are idle at any point in time, according to McKinsey & Co. and Gartner Inc., a first step might be identifying idle servers and reassigning server resources to avoid underutilization, or powering them down to avoid the electricity expense. Additionally, instead of relying on manufacturers’ specifications for maximum power draw, servers can be monitored under real-world workloads and after the initial “burn-in” phase.

Temperature Oversights
Data centers have traditionally monitored return-air temperature at the cooling units to estimate airflow effectiveness and to help keep servers operating at the recommended temperature. Today, servers provide real-time temperature data, which can be monitored automatically and used to drive dashboards that display thermal maps of the data center.

Even SMBs without a data center can utilize and benefit from real-time server temperature data. IT can identify hot spots before they lead to server or rack failures or shorten the lifespan of the assets. Since most SMBs cannot afford the same level of redundancy as enterprise data centers, proactive temperature monitoring and automated threshold alerts can avoid service outages that translate to loss of revenue.

SMBs with the most limited IT resources can benefit the most from solutions that leverage this server intelligence. The resulting productivity boosts and operating cost savings translate to very short ROI payback periods for the best-in-class offerings.

JEFF KLAUS is the general manager of data center manager solutions at Intel Corp. He leads a global team that is pioneering power, thermal, and access management solutions that are sold through data center infrastructure management software companies and OEMs.