Solving Data-Center Dilemmas

As companies contain rising energy costs across the enterprise, some organizations are forgetting to manage one of the largest areas of energy consumption—the data center.

“It is an industry problem because some companies don’t understand how to solve the issues,” said Christian L. Belady, technologist, enterprise storage and servers, Hewlett-Packard Co. “As companies begin to understand the issues and research the right technologies to solve the problem, energy-efficiency can become an opportunity.”

Belady discussed these opportunities during the Webinar, “Reduce Power Consumption While Driving Greater Computer Performance in the Data Center,” sponsored by CRN magazine and InformationWeek in July.

Building a new data center is a costly task for any business. For example, a company can spend between $61 million and $133 million on a typical 50,000-sq.-ft. data center that has 5 megawatts of support.

The good news is that server performance efficiency is improving on an annual basis, especially since the cost of computing continues to drop. As application growth outstrips performance, however, the power used by servers is on the rise. In fact, server power density has increased at an annual growth rate of 4% since 2004, according to “Datacom Equipment Power Trends and Cooling Applications,” a publication created by the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

“This year, infrastructure and energy costs related to one 1U server will double,” Belady explained, adding that the power and cooling capacity in data centers has not kept up the same pace.

“Companies are still behaving as if they were operating in the 1990s, when infrastructure and energy costs were close to a zero negligible cost of IT,” he said. “Companies are not comprehending that they need to look at these cost differences as they optimize their IT operations.”

As companies strive to lower energy costs, the benefits are twofold. Besides lowering the total cost of ownership of IT systems, “Energy-conscious companies will create a strategy that will differentiate them in the next decade,” Belady said.

Some issues can be easily remedied. For example, one of HP’s European customers complained that its data center was out of power, even though the location was operating at only one-third of its capacity. Worse, the company had already begun construction on a new $100 million data center.

“We discovered there were no open floor tiles to allow air to flow in front of the servers,” he said. “Cooling management is an easy best practice to follow and monitor, and it can provide at least 20% savings.”

To help retail customers reduce energy consumption, technology vendors are doing their part. The next generation in IT design promises to eliminate over-provisioning, which helps drive a stronger total cost of ownership.

For example, new-generation servers are equipped with power-management solutions that improve cooling capabilities and power processing. These solutions can provide savings of 20% to 80%.

Work is also being done at the chassis level, the structure that holds the servers. More specifically, there is a strong movement toward blade technology.

Blade servers house a number of individual, self-contained computer servers and each includes one or more processors, memory, storage and network connections. Unlike standard rack-mount servers that take up space and computing power, blade servers share the power supply and air-cooling resources of the chassis.

“By transitioning from rack-mounted servers to more blade technology, companies can experience 40% savings,” he said.

Other companies are opting for data-center power- and cooling-management tools. Unlike other solutions that provision power, these solutions deliver power based on a need basis. This automated approach can create 20% to 45% savings across the data center.

“By saving energy, it can be repurposed and used to run more servers,” he said. “This strategy can also enable [retailers] to double the amount of IT equipment used in the data center without adding to energy usage.”

Energy-efficient technology will not save a company a dime if results are not being regularly monitored. “If a company doesn’t measure the effects of its changes, they can’t see how efficiency is improving,” he said. “The key is establishing the right metrics that will reveal data-efficiency improvements within the data center.”

A fair power usage effectiveness [PUE] metric to consider is running an IT power load at 33%, and cooling power load at 63%. “This benchmark is so effective that it has been adopted by ASHRAE and The Green Grid, an industry consortium of more than 20 companies that provides guidelines for energy efficiency in the data center,” Belady noted.

Monitoring this operation manually is almost as troublesome as wasting energy. That said, HP suggests integrating software that will monitor power resources and report on usage issues.

“The technology monitors all temperatures and servers throughout a data center, and it can automatically monitor and change the operation of air-conditioning units based on the local conditions of servers,” Belady explained. “By automatically defining optimal zoning and eliminating over-provisioning of power and cooling, the solution can produce approximately 40% savings.”

“All of these efforts provide an exciting opportunity for businesses today,” John Santaferraro, HP’s energy-efficient computing product manager, said at the conclusion of the Webinar. “These ideas not only provide the opportunity to cut costs, but they are a great way to positively impact the environment as well.”