Ken Brill, Data Center Design Pioneer, Dies at 69

Brill's thought leadership, through many writings and the Uptime Institute's work, has led to increased power efficiency in data centers.

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Ken Brill, founder of the Uptime Institute and Upsite Technologies and an IT pioneer who led standards-setting for modern data center design, died July 30 as the result of cancer. He was 69.

Brill's thought leadership, through many writings and the Uptime Institute's work over the last three decades, has led to increased power efficiencies and higher performing data centers, earning him and the institute respect throughout the industry.

Brill (pictured with writer Deborah Grove in Redwood City, Calif., in 2009) singlehandedly created a market for data center control products literally out of nothing. He saw that it was possible to create an industry that could share and use information to improve IT operations.

Created Data Center Tier Designations

Under his leadership, Uptime created tier classifications for comparing data centres. As a result, data centers are now rated as Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4, according to how they rank on the Uptime evaluation for energy efficiency.

Brill was also an advocate of general energy efficiency. He campaigned for better communication between IT staff and the engineering teams that run data centers, which he thought was the only way to get the most from operations.

Brill told former eWEEK editor Michael Vizard in a podcast in 2008 that he believed data centers were in crisis due to rapidly expanding virtualization and energy waste.

Brill also designed and patented a dual-power system for data centers to increase uptime, but he charged no royalties for its use; as a result, his IT is resident in many server farms today. In 2007, he gave a now widely-cited presentation on the future of the industry entitled "The Economic Meltdown of Moore's Law."

Power Supplies Needed to Catch Up With Server Computations

In it, Brill noted that Intel co-founder Gordon Moore's famous prediction and other improvements in IT mean that server computation increases by a factor of three over a two-year period. Power efficiency, however, was only increasing by a factor of two, and this would mean an additional power consumption of 11.4x in little over a decade.

"Are we headed toward an economic meltdown of Moore's Law? The fundamental economics of IT have been eroded away by the cost of energy. The main culprits? Virtualization and energy waste. As much as four times more cooling is being used than is required by the heat load," Brill told Vizard in 2008.

In the last five years as data centers have been refreshed, however, more efficient power and cooling equipment has been deployed, saving enterprises untold millions of dollars in power usage.

'Part Visionary Thinker, Part Ruthless Pragmatist'

Brill's last major statement was issued following a prolonged outage at Amazon last winter. He warned that the concentration of computing resources with large cloud providers was a dangerous development and that IT should remain more distributed.

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

“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," McCarthy said.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...