Edgar Dales’ ‘cone of experience’ has inspired education researchers since 1946 to explore the effectiveness of various approaches to knowledge transfer. When numbers are applied to Dales’ conceptual model to show retention rates for various media, as researchers from the National Training Laboratories found in 2000, the results are stunning: only about 5 percent of the information delivered through lecture is retained, while retention rates are approximately 50 percent for discussion group and 70 percent for ‘practice by doing’ formats. If this number theory is not without its detractors, broad conclusions from the research beg the question, ‘why lecture if you want learning’?
This lesson is one that ABB has taken to heart. At the recent Datacentre Dynamics Enterprise conference in New York, the Swiss-based power management provider hosted a lunchtime challenge that invited attendees to read, write, report and role play the application of new power technologies in data centre environments. A leading supplier of power and automation solutions for the industrial sector, ABB has more recently trained its focus on transferring strengths in verticals like energy to data centre markets and to support this has developed a range of options that can help facilities managers better manage power and energy conservation needs – issues that remain on the critical list for many data centre operators. A PUE average in the 2 range for most enterprises (the average for new data centre builds is probably closer to 1.6) means that a whopping half of energy brought into data centre sites is consumed by facilities systems and only half by IT equipment, i.e. devoted to productive work. At the same time, access to power continues to act as a primary restraint on the expansion of compute capacity, which is experiencing a demand trajectory that is in upward spiral overdrive due to increased server densities and ever growing business requirement for more processing capacity. Going forward, it’s likely that these ongoing issues in power management will only be exacerbated as the data centre shifts into industrial mode with the adoption of technique and practice from the hyperscale giants – and likely also that new approaches will receive enthusiastic welcome.
To encourage this reception, and with a little help from InsightaaS, ABB also crafted a new approach to messaging around DCIM, the use of medium voltage AC, and the integration of renewable energy resources (primarily photovoltaic), mediated through microgrid technologies, into the data centre. As reading material, InsightaaS prepared a series of backgrounder documents for each of these four solution areas, outlining the current state of adoption in data centre facilities, technology benefits, implementation difficulties as well as the interplay between various solutions. Intended as reference materials for attendees, these backgrounders will be made available for viewing on InsightaaS over the next several months – as is currently the case with DCIM: An ‘Operating System’ for the Data Center.
But the genius of the presentation lay in interactive techniques designed to foster discussion and engagement with the material and help attendees visualize the application of these four technologies in their own circumstances. Facilitated by InsightaaS’ Michael O’Neil and Mary Allen, this portion of the lunchtime challenge asked participants, who were divided into separate tables for DCIM, medium voltage AC, microgrid and renewable resources, to assume the role of the data centre operator tasked with building the business case for implementation of these different technologies at Shamrock Corp., a fictitious company plagued by many issues that are familiar ground in data centre environments – distributed operations, the need to rationalize and consolidate infrastructure, etc. Table discussion in this segment proved lively, fuelled by the input of attendees who were able to draw on their own industry experiences, backgrounder documents, and the insight of ABB subject matter experts, including Jon Jagger and Bob Fesmire on microgrid, Gary Rackliffe and Doug Whitmer on renewables, Richard Unger and Mark Reed on DCIM and Frank Burgess and Dave Sterlace on medium voltage AC, who delivered input to the reference documents and were present in person at the lunch to offer information, and guide rather than arbitrate discussion.
In developing their business cases, table participants were asked to weight the four technologies according to their ability to deliver on five Shamrock board imperatives:
- Improve power quality so that the data centers function optimally with least disruption to capital assets.
- Improve power reliability to ensure that the data centers provide services without interruption.
- Improve resiliency to ensure that even in the face of a catastrophe, the services needed to generate billable hours are available.
- Reduce the cost of power!
- Improve the corporate CSR profile through better conservation efforts.
To help focus the conversation, the tables were also given working materials which asked the table chairperson/secretary to write answers to key questions targeted at drawing the lines between Shamrock Corp. needs, technology issues and expected benefits, in advance of reporting their findings for consideration by Shamrock senior executives and the board. The final reports from the different tables offered strong evidence of the benefits of the interactive approach to knowledge sharing. Participants were able to wade through a wide matrix of company imperatives and circumstance, and technology issues and benefits to build compelling business use cases that are being consolidated into the “Shamrock Accords,” a summary document for participants intended to reinforce learnings – should that become necessary.
Stay tuned to InsightaaS for more on medium voltage AC, renewables and microgrid as they may be applied in the data centre, and for more Accord learnings.