Energy tips go unheeded, experts says

Data center designers, operators not taking full advantage of today’s technology, vendors say

It’s a popular theory that energy inefficiency in data centers is causing an economic meltdown of Moore’s Law. But data center designers and operators could improve efficiency greatly by taking advantage of technology already available today.

Data centers are literally running out of power and storage. The dramatic increase in computational performance of processors and servers is not being matched by a corresponding rise in energy efficiency, Bruce Taylor of the Uptime Institute consulting group said Tuesday.

“There is an awful lot we don’t know yet. We’re still at the beginning of looking at this problem,” Taylor, the Uptime Institute’s chief strategist, said during a panel discussion in Boston involving HP, AMD and EMC.

Technology vendors on the panel said they are finding it a challenge to build systems efficient enough to meet storage needs, which are increasing more than 50% a year. But they said data center designers and operators often fail to take advantage of existing technology and design principles that could greatly reduce power consumption.

Data center energy crunch
• 61 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity were consumed by servers and data centers in the United States in 2006, at a cost of $4.5 billion.
• That's more than double the amount in 2000, and exceeds the electricity used by every color television in the nation.
• That's more than double the amount in 2000, and exceeds the electricity used by every color television in the nation.
• Half of the overall electricity use in data centers is from power and cooling.
• The federal government accounts for 10% of data center energy use.
SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency, August 2007.

The average data center probably uses three times more air conditioning and cooling than is needed, Taylor said. Not only do operators keep temperatures too low, designers worried about aesthetics often fail to use efficient layouts such as the hot aisle/cold aisle method, he said.

“Most data center designers do not look at the facility using the right metrics,” said Ken Baker, an infrastructure technologist at HP. “It’s a thermodynamic workflow problem. If you address it that way and do the math, it will drive you to these improvements right away.”

Automation control systems for cooling, combined with other best practices can easily make data centers 50% more efficient, Baker said.

“The best practices, in many cases, already exist,” said Dick Sullivan, director of enterprise solutions marketing at EMC. “I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those people who just discovered they ran out of power when the new DMX storage arrives on the dock. They obviously haven’t been paying attention up to that point.”

Only 10% of users are turning on power management systems that power computers down when idle, said Brent Kerby, an AMD product marketing manager.

IT departments can save both energy and money by consolidating systems that have small drives into systems with larger drives, and by using server virtualization, panelists said.

AMD is building virtualization capabilities into processors to reduce the software overhead and, hopefully, make virtualization more acceptable to network executives, Kerby said. Intel, which was not represented on the panel, is doing the same with its own processors.

Baker cautioned observers to have patience with IT shops, who might undergo a lengthy and costly systems overhaul, only to see a vendor come out with an even better technology the next day.

“It takes forever for (new processors) to be adopted,” said AMD processor designer Samuel Naffzinger. “There’s expensive infrastructure overhauls that go along with it.”

Ignoring the need for efficiency will cause the industry no small amount of financial pain, and create a storage problem that will not be easily fixed, Baker said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is poised to take action. The agency this month issued a report to Congress recommending federal leadership, standardized performance measurement for data centers, and possible Energy Star efficiency rules for data center products.

Some companies are coming up with innovative ways to force departments to be more efficient. Some financial firms, for example, require departments to use virtualization, and apply fiscal penalties to those that don’t, said John Tuccillo, marketing director of American Power Conversion Corp.

The data center energy problem must be looked at holistically, panelists agreed. Competitors are coming together to find solutions in collaborative organizations such as the Green Grid, said Baker, who is a member of the group, a consortium of IT companies and professionals seeking to lower the overall consumption of power in data centers.

Education might be the most important solution, though.

“Education and awareness is probably the most important thing we should all be doing today,” Sullivan said. “A lot of the technologies that exist can help you save energy. You need to know what they are, you need to know how to deploy them.”

Learn more about this topic

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