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Uptime Institute founder Ken Brill passes

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*The article has been updated with a statement from Brill's colleague at Upsite Technologies


Ken Brill, founder of the highly influential data center industry organization Uptime Institute has passed, according to a statement issued by the organization.


In a statement, Martin McCarthy, chairman and CEO of the 451 Group, Uptime's parent company, said Brill was a special man. “Part visionary thinker, part ruthless pragmatist, he was an iconoclast and innovator, and a man of great integrity and passion,” he said.


“He is legitimately known around the world as 'the father of the data center industry.' On behalf of our firm, the clients that Ken devoted his life to serving, and the overall global IT industry, we collectively mourn his passing, and express our condolences to his family and intimates.


“We will all deeply miss this brilliant and bristly individual.”


Brill's concepts have lead to many innovations that took place in the data center industry over the past 25 years, according to Uptime. These innovations include things like dual power distribution, Uptime's Tier system of classifying data center facility performance, as well as metrics for energy efficiency of facilities in supporting IT.


Stephen Worn, CTO of DatacenterDynamics, said, “There is no sadder note today than to hear of the passing of our industry friend and colleague Ken Brill. Ken was a special and specific type of data center Renaissance man – one who worked tirelessly and never stopped exploring how to improve and educate our community.


“He dug deeply into the topics important to him and made all our lives richer and added much to the art and science of designing, building and operating the mission critical infrastructure that underpins this digital age.”


According to a statement from Uptime, “Mr. Brill's research into the economic meltdown of Moore’s Law, data center productivity and energy efficiency, and IT's declining economics form core knowledge to be taken into account by corporate leaders charged with business performance, profitability and sustainability."


Julian Kutritzki, COO of Uptime, said Brill was inspired in thinking and resolute in principles. “As a personality and an innovator, he left an indelible imprint on the IT and data center industry,” he said.


“His innovations are so fundamental to the progression of the data center industry over time that it is difficult to believe they can be traced back to the energy and passion of a single man. With Ken's passing, the industry mourns a ferocious critic and committed agent of change.”


In 2001, Brill founded Upsite Technologies, a data center airflow-management company. In a statement, John Thornell, the company's president, said, “Everyone at Upsite Technologies extends their heartfelt condolences to Ken's family during this difficult time.”


In 2009, DatacenterDynamics recognized Brill's outstanding contribution to the industry with an award. He also received a lifetime-achievement award from 7x24 Exchange International.


Here's Brill's acceptance speech at the 2009 DatacenterDynamics awards ceremony in London:


"Accepting this award was a thrill, and in receiving it I am merely standing on the shoulders of those who came before me. People like Ray Dixon, Alan Freedman, Pitt Turner, Fred Kalbach, Warren Lewis, Hank Seader, John Luhman, Tom Key, and many more who were the true data center environmental and reliability pioneers - some dating as far back as the sixties.
I started in the data center field as a manufacturer of rotary UPS in the mid seventies. By the mid eighties, I had made and lost a million dollars and nearly went bankrupt.
While I was licking my wounds and deciding what to do next, I realised my career needed to have a higher purpose beyond me and just making money. I settled on ensuring uninterruptible uptime. I stumbled a lot and went down a number of dead ends, but opportunities arose and people gave me chances to do things I had never done.
Data center facility failures were extremely rare and I realised the only way to improve uptime was to do benchmarking over a large population of events - a population larger than any single site or group of sites would ever see. This led to founding the Uptime Institute and the Site Uptime Network, which now has 100 members in the US, Canada and Europe.
My new interests are the changing economics of IT, carbon footprint regulation and the next generation of uptime professionals. I am moving away from engineering and into business strategy and governance, as well as national and world IT public policy.
While predictions have been made that I will retire in 2009, barring health issues, I expect to be active for many years to come. I anticipate a stream of creative ideas in 2009 on dramatically improving data center and IT energy efficiency, where fundamental research investments should be made, and how to reuse data center waste heat. That my body of work is validated with this award encourages me to continue on my path, in whichever direction it takes, to improve the operability and efficiency of IT and data centers.
Green IT means many things to different people. For some it means not printing on paper through automation, not travelling to meetings through videoconferencing, or changing procurement and waste management procedures to responsibly dispose of obsolete equipment. However, for me, IT energy consumption is by far the biggest green issue for IT. Being green makes good business sense, but don't look for the utility savings from reduced energy consumption. The real savings are on the CapEx side. Less energy consumption means significantly less costly data centers. Greenness translates directly into less CapEx spending.
Only 1-2% of total energy consumed in a data centre produces useful computing. The rest covers overheads and inefficiencies tied to technology choices, service-level agreements and way in which IT is managed.
Historically, mainframes ran in batch mode and had a high utilisation, whereas today's transaction-based systems typically have a very low utilisation. Virtualisation increases hardware asset utilisation back towards what batch systems achieved.
The manager of a manufacturing plant with a €100m investment would be fired for singledigit asset utilisation, or the plant would be closed. IT has single-digit hardware asset utilisation on similar investments and nobody thinks much about it - this is not very green.
One European bank reduced its server count from 3,100 to 150 just through virtualisation. Green IT was not the objective, but the result was a 92% reduction in power demands.
Firms that outsource IT need to review the carbon emissions strategy of their suppliers on a regular basis. Their carbon footprint has been shifted but not reduced by outsourcing. In order to stay in business, outsourcers must recover any carbon taxes from their clients.
Managers can save 20-30% - essentially for free - just by addressing the right things. For example, right-sizing memory can save a lot. Also, when you buy power supplies you need to compare their efficiency at 10% load, not at the high end, because most hardware will run lightly loaded due to power supply redundancy and power supply capacity overprovisioning. Killing comatose hardware can also defer new CapEx data center spend."

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  • Ken Brill, the late founder of the Uptime Institute

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