Oracle looks to Utah for green data center

Oracle will consolidate computing facilities from its many acquisitions in a remotely managed data center near Salt Lake City, partly to cut its second-largest data center cost: energy.

The enterprise software giant will break ground this month on the first phase of the Oracle Utah Compute Facility, which when completed will stretch one-quarter mile across a site in West Jordan, Utah, said Mark Sunday, Oracle's senior vice president and CIO, in a LinuxWorld keynote on Wednesday.

Thanks to dry outside air, high server density and containment of cooling, Oracle expects to achieve much more power efficiency than at its main data center in Austin, Texas, Sunday said. Utah's low humidity will help, but the cooling systems will be able to take advantage of outside air on days as hot as 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius), he said. Inside, heat will be pushed behind and above the server racks, concentrating the cooling on the equipment itself.

The center will be divided into four "supercells," each of which can be broken up into "subcells" that can be managed independently, Sunday said. Networking and power distribution gear will be separate from the supercells so computing power can be more concentrated within the data center. Each supercell will take up about 30,000 square feet but will have roughly the same computing capacity as the 88,000-square-foot Austin center, Sunday said. The power density will be three times as high, at about 300 watts per square foot (0.9 square meters).

Another benefit of separating the networking and power infrastructure is reducing foot traffic in the data center, which enhances security.

"It's pretty disruptive the way our Austin facility is designed. Our new facility is designed much more around being able to isolate the flow of individuals," Sunday said.

The new data center will allow Oracle to consolidate facilities that became part of Oracle's infrastructure because of its more than 50 acquisitions, Sunday said. Many of those were inefficient to maintain, he said.

"While our company's growing dramatically, we aren't consuming more power than we were roughly two years ago," Sunday said.

The Utah Compute Facility will be completely managed remotely, with more than 65 percent of its management staff located outside the U.S., according to Sunday. However, Oracle likes to keep its major data centers in the U.S. because of stable and relatively low-cost power, as well as security and good telecommunications infrastructure. Utah was chosen partly for land cost, power cost and its pro-business culture, as well as climate.

The Austin center, which was built just five years ago and is about twice as efficient as a typical data center, according to Sunday, will remain Oracle's main facility for now. The Utah site will be used for a variety of purposes, possibly including staging of computing environments for on-demand customers.

Increasing power density doesn't save energy by itself but can cut lighting and cooling costs, said Michael Kanellos, a senior analyst at GreenTech Media. Other enterprises also are containing cooling and using outside air, he added. For example, Microsoft is building a data center in coastal Ireland and will take advantage of cool, breezy air there.

"It's a good idea, because it's free," Kanellos said.

Oracle's Sunday emphasized that virtualization, using Oracle VM on top of Oracle Enterprise Linux, will deliver far more efficiency benefits than any hardware changes.

Oracle's goal is to provide a complete, integrated, open software stack, said Edward Screven, Oracle's chief corporate architect. This can prevent time-consuming support calls to multiple vendors of operating systems, virtualization software and other components, because Oracle can support the whole stack, he said.

"If you have a problem, it's our problem," Screven said.

One problem Oracle won't take on is support for Oracle databases on VMware, Screven said in response to a question from the audience. The company has certified almost none of its products for VMware, and this won't change in the future, he said. Doing so would increase Oracle's support burden, particularly because of bugs that span multiple layers of software, Screven said.

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