The success of British cycling, be it by Team GB or Team Sky, has been astonishing; from an also-ran to a world leader in less than a decade. This success has been largely attributed to one man – Sir Dave Brailsford – and one approach to performance improvement – Marginal Gains. When Brailsford became Performance Director at British cycling he introduced the new philosophy of marginal gains and ensured that coaches focused heavily on how they can fine tune the many aspects that affect a rider’s performance. Some of these changes were obvious (e.g. improvement of bike aerodynamics through wind-tunnel testing) and some were more unusual (e.g. strict use of hand sanitisers to prevent illness, and white paint on the workshop floor to encourage cleanliness). Whilst almost inconsequential on their own, these tiny improvements all make a difference which, when combined, mean the difference between a first-round failure and a podium place.
Whilst the concept of marginal gains is now widespread in sport, can the same approach be applied to increasing efficiency in our critical IT environments?
At Jacarta, with our roots in environmental monitoring, we have had first-hand experience of the problems associated with balancing data centre temperature and power usage. By carefully monitoring and managing temperature conditions it is possible to slightly raise data centre temperature and reduce the power consumed by cooling systems. Studies have shown that DC managers can reduce the power consumption of their cooling systems by up to 4% for every degree increase in temperature. This small, simple change to the data centre environment could reduce energy costs with no effect on network stability – provided the temperature is still within recommended limits. These slight increases in Data Centre running temperature are also recommended in the latest guidelines published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
Another example would be the identification of particularly power-hungry hardware within the data centre. By monitoring and analysing the power usage of equipment it is possible to quickly pinpoint areas where power savings potentially can be made. This is especially useful in instances where a full hardware ‘refresh’ may not be possible for financial or logistical reasons. By focusing on the power-hungry hardware that can be quickly and easily updated the potential savings can be maximised.
There are also marginal gains that are perhaps even more marginal! These changes could range from ensuring that hardware is properly maintained to ensuring that doors and windows are not left open causing temperature change: from ensuring that equipment that is not required is fully powered down to only turning lights on when a room is in use.
As the quest to enhance data centre efficiency and reduce costs goes on, it seems fair to say that the IT world can benefit from the concept of marginal gains in much the same way that sport has and that the improvements over time could be potentially huge.