/// Is It Time for Just-in-Time Data Centers?

February 6, 2013  |  All Things Digital


The 1970s were a challenging time for automakers, especially in the U.S. The model that had worked so well for decades — building new, bigger models often focusing more on design than function and practicality — was being challenged as oil shocks and inflation took its toll on the American buyer. In the midst of globally difficult economic times, the Japanese saw an opening. Taiichi Ohno, working for Toyota after World War II, saw inefficiencies in the American assembly line system , especially in the inventory and quality control systems. He pioneered a new system of production for the company, called “just-in-time.” The objectives were to introduce consistency in the production process and eliminate waste of all kinds, including overproduction, excess inventory, time (waiting for parts) and ineffective or defective products being produced. American supermarkets, ironically, held the answer for Ohno ; they only restocked shelves with enough product to replace inventory that was sold to customers. In the just-in-time system, this translated into keeping about 24 hours’ worth of inventory in the factory, with parts being ordered and shipped on an as-needed basis. The success of Toyota’s transformation is now well-known; it became a global company that would eventually surpass sales of GM, the world’s largest auto maker, in 2008. The just-in-time system pioneered by Toyota would be widely copied, with U.S. automakers implementing the new system in the 1980s, to varying levels of success. Lessons for the Data Center You may be asking what all of this fascinating automotive history has to do with data centers today, in 2013. The fact is, the data center industry is undergoing a transformation of its own. While the U.S., thankfully, hasn’t seen oil shocks on the scale of those experienced in the 1970s, it’s clear that the era of cheap energy is over, especially with increasing demand for energy supply in high-growth markets like China and India. Rising energy prices and volatility mean that data centers can’t afford to operate the way that U.S. auto manufacturers did in the 1950s and 1960s. Traditionally built to accommodate future growth, wastefully inefficient data centers were built in previous decades with overcapacity in mind, in an era when energy was much cheaper and more readily available. Today, data center owners and managers face the challenges of legacy builds, with these facilities suffering from the same kind of waste that plagued the auto industry before lean manufacturing changed it. As James Glanz outlined last year in the New York Times story “ Power, Pollution and the Internet ,” the worst offenders not only use huge amounts of energy to power parts of data centers that aren’t used, but also contribute to pollution

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Is It Time for Just-in-Time Data Centers?

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