Schneider Electric, the power (and cooling) behind Dell Solution Centres

Dell Solution Centres (DSC) focus on delivering technical customer engagements, building solutions across core domains and industry solutions, ISV certification and sales enablement activities. Each Solution Centre enables prospective customers to experience the full capability of Dell solutions to solve their IT challenges, meet their business requirements and maximise their technology budgets.

“Our global network of fifteen Solution Centres provides everything from a short technology briefing to multi-day workshops and proof of concepts for IT stakeholders to collaborate with our team of technology experts and experience first hand how Dell solutions can help solve their business challenges. Through the Solution Centres we partner with our customers to evaluate innovative technologies, while we will help them identify and implement solutions aimed at increasing productivity and business efficiency,” says Brian Hayden, Global Infrastructure Lead, Dell.

Driven by global mega-trends such as cloud computing, mobility, security and big data, more than 15,000 customer engagements have passed through the Solution Centres during the last three years. Each DSC is supported by an operating data centre in which customer environments can be tested and new solutions evaluated. Brian Hayden is clear about the importance of the facilities: “If we lost a data centre at a decisive time in the customer engagement, it could have a major impact upon a customer project.”

The data centres also provide a showcase for Dell solutions so that customers can evaluate servers, storage and networking equipment in operation as well as judging their effects on the network and physical infrastructure as a whole. The DSC has invested extensively in facilities to ensure maximum uptime for their requirements. “Our customers are always interested in our data centres – what’s in them and how they are run. The challenge of running a reliable and efficient data centre is something they can all relate to,” says Brian Hayden.

Operating Dell Solution Centre Data Centres

Working with both facilities and IT teams to deliver a standard set of services to customers, Hayden’s role at Dell gives him a unique appreciation of the pressures on both teams. He works with local organisations to ensure that data centres are built with sufficient power and cooling capacity to support customer engagements, which also includes architecting the infrastructure and, when necessary, upgrading facilities to accommodate latest generation IT equipment. On a daily basis he is responsible for dealing with emerging issues affecting continuity of services, and working alongside a virtual facilities team to resolve any alerts.

“As technology evolves at the hardware level we need smarter infrastructure. Compute nodes have got denser, so has storage equipment. As the devices increase in power density, it puts a strain on the power and cooling capacity available in the data centre,” says Brian Hayden.

“When we design a solution for a customer we need to look at it from an end-to-end point of view. As we build out the solution we need to consider the full and total cost of ownership, including the data centre. If we shrink the form factor of the device, the power and cooling element doesn’t simply disappear. Just as customers are concerned about the efficiency of each server, they want to know about the power and cooling demand which is about to be placed on their facilities”.

Working with Schneider Electric

At the heart of Dell’s strategic approach is its long term partnership with Schneider Electric, its StruxureWare for Data Centers DCIM and its APC by Schneider Electric InfraStruxure solution for on-demand data centres.

Brian Hayden explains the rationale behind the partnership and why it has been so beneficial to Dell. “In short they are a tried and trusted partner that I knew about at a component level and which our facilities team knew at a data centre level. What is particularly unique is their modular approach and the fact that they were pioneers in high density in-row cooling technology. Just as customers are interested in seeing state-of-the-art IT offerings from Dell, they’re also interested in the latest power and cooling technologies – like the HACS and free coolers.”

The Limerick Campus

The Limerick Campus is supported by three different data centres which host 70 racks containing over 1500 enterprise servers, switches, storage and networking equipment. The profile of each facility is very different, ranging from a traditional raised floor environment with perimeter CRAC to a latest generation, high efficiency solution with segregated hot and cold aisles and integrated Uniflair free cooling.

“Free cooling is a great talking point. The facilities team looked at different variations – direct and indirect free cooling before making the decision. We knew that there are a large number of free cooling hours available in this area, whenever the ambient temperature is 18 degrees or lower in fact. This was enough to build a strong business case with a quick ROI; during 2012 the data centre ran on free cooling for 302 days, saving us approximately $25k in energy costs”, said Brian Hayden.

The company has adopted PUE as a metric for its data centre test environments and utilises a number of tools to monitor and measure efficiency. Schneider Electric’s Data Centre Expert provides a dashboard view of all the facilities throughout EMEA; showing everything from threshold alerts to open cabinet doors and power load. Because a virtual team manages the facilities, a portal has been created to provide an inside view of what’s going on inside the data centres, including thermal mapping and analysis. A high level of software use and automation significantly increases the capabilities and responsiveness of the small management team.

“In EMEA we’re also using Schneider Electric Data Centre Operations software which allows us to ensure, for example, we’re balancing loads correctly in the data centres. We can simulate cooling failures and the impact upon the servers, create thermal maps across the room. We make sure that we’re using best practices so that customers can be confident that the proof of concept they are running has been implemented in a properly run environment,” says Hayden. The DSC team also utilises power-use data from operating facilities in order to size new data centres.

Schneider Electric, a trusted partner to Dell Solutions Centres

“They (Schneider Electric) handle every single aspect of the build. They don’t just drop the kit off, they handle all of the build and obviously they have the integrated solution with the software stack as well which provides the complete package to monitor and manage the data centre.” Brian Hayden continues, “With the software side of things it means you can standardise across a single platform which means increased familiarity with the system and less training”.

Since downtime is often the result of human error, familiarity with the system is a real benefit to Dell. It’s also with one eye on the future that Schneider Electric delivers significant benefits for Dell, especially in the area of scalability and agility.

“The big difference with Schneider Electric is the modular approach. As we’ve wanted to scale it, even with the UPS Symmetra we can add in additional components, we scaled our high density deployment and added four racks recently and it’s very easy to do so. And then obviously as a part of that you have the monitoring piece, the sensors on all the racks – we even have, (and it will be nice to be able to showcase this as our customers are security conscious) card reader access on the racks,” says Brian Hayden.

“The InRow cooling solution is more dynamic as well,” he says. “Our legacy CRAC units aren’t intelligent and run at the same speed all the time. The modular solution is dynamic – when they are loading the racks we can see the fan speeds up as required providing more cooling. The IT hardware is also becoming more intelligent with the fans and airflow adaptive to speed up and slow down according to workload. The APC units do the same thing at data centre level, so we are getting the best of both worlds at both component and data centre levels.”

One thing that Hayden is certain of about the future is Dell’s ongoing relationship with Schneider Electric. “Schneider Electric is a tried and trusted partner and with its APC solution is a leader and innovator in this space. It is the best fit to deliver both

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