Thursday, April 30, 2009

Free Data Center Assessment Tools from the Department of Energy.

It certainly shows where we are at in this country when the Government is creating free tools to help us access our efficiency and giving us guidance on how to improve our Data Center Efficiency. What choice does the DoE have with the rising demand for power from our Data Centers expected to be 10% of the total US demand for power by 2011 while we have a growing need to reduce our carbon footprint & demand on fossil fuels.

In my opinion, a couple areas of caution are warranted in the use of these free tools. First the tool is free, but you still have to have the means to collect the data to enter into the tool, details about the power consumption of your equipment & whether the equipment can be controlled, utility bills, temperature readings at rack inlet & on supply return, airflow readings, etc. The presentation & guidance suggests that we can use air side & water side economizers, decrease our airflow, raise our water temperature & set points for supply side air without even discussing the impacts this could have on availability? The guidance for use of the tools discusses the use of thermography or CFD, but treats it as a suggested option in our analysis of improving DCiE while we are raising temperatures & decreasing airflow. These tools do present value & they are free. I just wish our Government would have stressed the tools limitations & cautioned users on other considerations that must be factored, such as the availability requirements of your Data Center.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How important is it to consider the Grid for my back-up data center & DR Plan?

It has been several years since the August 2003 Blackout, but I can't help thinking that we are all being lulled to sleep on the next major grid issue. There are only 3 main power grids in the US so if I have my primary Data Center on the Eastern Interconnect then should my DR requirement be to locate my back-up site in TX on the ERCOT Grid or in the west on the WSCC Grid. Or is there any benefit to locating on a different NERC region in which case there are 10 regions in the US. Can that benefit equivalent to being on a separate grid? I would doubt it since the 2003 Blackout crossed multiple NERC regions in the Eastern Grid.

Should I not be concerned with this & just choose a site or build a site with a higher level of redundant & back-up power? Is it more important to have the DR site in a location easily accessible for our technical experts than it is to have it on a different grid? Remember 911 grounded flights so if we had another event of that magnitude it would take days for my technical experts to get to our DR site if they could at all. Of course we can introduce many tools for full remote control & power control where access to our physical environment becomes less important so should I make it best practice to get that DR site on a separate grid? If I put locating my DR site into my key design criteria where should it fall on my priority list?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going Green with Data Center Storage

Just saw an interesting article in Enterprise Strategies about the use of magnetic tape as an energy-efficient storage solution. In “Tape’s Role in the Green Data Center,” Mark Ferelli discusses how tape technology is making a comeback by helping to keep the data center green as utility bills rise. He explains:

The efficient use of disk can help with data center greening when a user reads and writes to the densest possible disk array to ensure capacity is maximized and more disk is not bought unnecessarily.

In archiving, on the other hand, the greenest option is tape, which uses less power and produces a lower heat output. This not only eases the bite of the utility bill but places less strain on HVAC systems. In contrast, the case can be made that using disk for archiving does more harm since disks that spin constantly use much more power and generate more heat.

Ferelli also takes a look at alternative power and cooling solutions, such as MAID (Massive Array of Idle Disks) storage arrays, in comparison with tape-based storage.

What’s been your experience with energy-efficient storage technology? Do tape-based systems offer better power savings versus disk-based solutions?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Google Unveils Server with Built-in Battery Design

For the first time on Wednesday, Google opened up about the innovative design of its custom-built servers.

The timing of the reveal, which coincided with April Fool’s Day, left some wondering if the earth shattering news was a prank. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, right? Not so in this case. In the interest of furthering energy efficiency in the industry, Google divulged that each of its servers has a built-in battery design. This means that, rather than relying on uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) for backup power, each of Google's servers has its own 12-volt battery. The server-mounted batteries have proven to be cheaper than conventional UPS and provide greater efficiency.

Google offered additional insights into its server architecture, its advancements in the area of energy efficiency, and the company’s use of modular data centers. For the full details, I recommend reading Stephen Shankland’s coverage of the event at CNET News. It’s fascinating stuff. Plus, Google plans to launch a site in a few days with more info.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Can The Container Approach Fit Your Data Center Plans?

Conventional Data Center Facilities have now had a long history of difficulties in keeping up with the increasing demands of new server & network hardware so organizations are now looking for solutions that upgrade the facility with the technology upgrade, rather than continuing to invest millions in engineering & construction upgrades to support higher densities, the expense of having to build or move to new facilities that can handle these densities. Containers offer a repeatable standard building block. Technology has long advanced faster than facilities architecture and containerized solutions at least levels a large portion of the facility advance to the technology advance.

So why haven't we all already moved into Containerized Data Center Facilities and why are so many new facilities underway that have no plans for containers? Hold on Google just revealed for the first time that since 2005, its data centers have been composed of standard shipping containers--each with 1,160 servers and a power consumption that can reach 250 kilowatts. 1st Google showed us all how to better use the internet, now have they shown us all how to build an efficient server & Data Center? The container reduces the real estate cost substantially, but the kW cost only marginally, Google really focused its attention on efficiency savings at the server level, bravo! The weak link in every data center project will always remain the ability of the site to provide adequate redundant capacity emergency power & heat rejection. These issues do not go away in the container ideology. In fact, it could be argued that the net project cost in the container model could be greater since the UPS's & CRAC units often are located within the container, which will cause the overall count of them to be greater. Just as in any Data Center project rightsizing the utility power, support infrastructure & back up power to meet the short & long term goals of your key design criteria is the most important aspect to consider in any containerized project. What containers do accomplish is creating a repeatable standard & footprint for the IT load and how the power, air & communications are distributed to it. Organizations are spending billions of dollars planning & engineering those aspects in many cases to find out their solution is dated by the time they install their IT load. With containers when you upgrade your servers you are upgrading your power, air & communications simultaneously & keeping it aligned with your IT load.

What about the small & medium business market? Yes the containerized approach is a very viable alternative to a 100,000+ square foot conventional build, but what about the smaller applications? A container provides an all encompassing building block for technology & facility architecture but in a fairly large footprint. Not everyone has a need for 1400U's of space, 22,400 processing cores or the wherewithal to invest over $500K per modular component. Unless SMB's want to colocate or sign off to a managed service provider who is running their IT in a cloud in a new containerized Data Center, the container approach doesn't have a play for SMB or does it? There are certainly solutions in the market to help a SMB build their own smaller footprint high density movable enclosure or mini-container, it’s surprising there has been little focus on that much larger market. We are exploring some containerized approaches to the SMB market that would also address branch & division applications for large organizations where the container offerings today likely present too large a building block to be practical.

For more information about Containerized Data Centers & some of the methodologies for deployment I recommend Dennis Cronin's article in Mission Critical Magazine.

And certainly the details on CNET about Google's Containers & Servers.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Data Center Power Drain [Video]

Click here to watch a recent news report from on what's being done to make San Francisco's data centers more energy efficient.

In the "On the Greenbeat" segment, reporter Jeffrey Schaub talks to Mark Breamfitt at PG&E and Miles Kelley at 365 Main about how utilities companies and the IT industry are working to reduce overall energy consumption. According to the report, each of 365 Main’s three Bay Area data centers uses as much power as a 150 story skyscraper, with 40 percent of that power used to cool the computers.