Computer data center experts are being shown new respect, according to The New York Times, and the trend is set to continue.

In Silicon Valley, mechanical engineers who design and run computer data centers have traditionally been regarded as little more than blue-collar workers in the high-tech world.

For years, the mission of data center experts was to keep the computing power plants humming, while scant thought was given to rising costs and energy consumption.

Today, they are no longer taken for granted as data centers grow to keep pace with the demands of Internet-era computing, according to a report in The New York Times.

As a result of their immense need for electricity and their inefficient use of that energy, data centers pose environmental, energy and economic challenges

That means people with the skills to design, build and run a data center that does not endanger the power grid are suddenly in demand.

Their status is growing, as are their salaries — climbing more than 20 per cent in US in the last two years into six figures for experienced engineers.

Jonathan G. Koomey, a consulting professor of environmental engineering at Stanford University, said: “The data center energy problem is growing fast, and it has an economic importance that far outweighs the electricity use.

“So that explains why these data center people, who haven’t gotten a lot of glory in their careers, are in the spotlight now.”

Chandrakant Patel, a mechanical engineer at Hewlett-Packard Labs, said that data centers can be made 30 per cent to 50 per cent more efficient just by applying current technology.

Patel, who has worked in Silicon Valley for 25 years, said that at one time, “we were seen as sheet metal jockeys”.
“But now we have a chance to change the world for the better, using engineering and basic science,” he said.

No letup in demand for data center computing

Digital Realty Trust, a data center landlord with more than 70 facilities, said that customer demand for new space is running 50 per cent ahead of its capacity to build and equip data centers for the next two years.

For every new center, new data center administrators need to be hired.

Indeed, some data managers with only a degree from a two-year college can command a USD $100,000 salary.

Trade and professional conferences for data center experts, unheard of years ago, are now commonplace.

Five-figure signing bonuses, retention bonuses and generous stock grants have become ingredients in the compensation packages of data center experts today.

The pace of the data center buildup is the result of the surging use of server computers, which in the United States rose to 11.8 million in 2007, from 2.6 million a decade earlier, according to IDC, a research firm.

Worldwide, the 10-year pattern is similar, with the server population increasing more than fourfold to 30.3 million by 2007.

Based on current trends, by 2011 data center energy consumption will nearly double again, requiring the equivalent of 25 power plants. The world’s data centers, according to recent study from McKinsey & Company, could well surpass the airline industry as a greenhouse gas polluter by 2020.

Because the task ahead, analysts say, is not just building new data centers, but also overhauling the old ones, the managers who know how to cut energy consumption are at a premium.

Most of the 6,600 data centers in America, analysts say, will be replaced or retrofitted with new equipment over the next several years.

They apparently have little choice. Analysts point to surveys that show 30 per cent of American corporations are deferring new technology initiatives because of data center limitations.

Mechanical and electrical engineers with experience in data center design, air-flow modeling and power systems management are in demand.

Now that costs and energy consumption are priorities, the data center gurus are getting a hearing and new respect.

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