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Power demands drain data centers

Keeping up with the power consumption of newer high-density servers, such as blades, is draining the data center manager's resources, as well as his patience.

LAS VEGAS -- Data center managers are hungry for power.

As IT infrastructures include more and more high-density servers, such as blades, data center managers are finding power, and the cooling and heating issues associated with it, to be one big drain on their resources and their nerves.

They simply need more juice.

According to a new study conducted by AFCOM, a user group for data center managers and the InterUnity Group, a Concord, Mass.-based research firm, data center managers report a 10% or more increase in power requirements over the past year and expect that number to continue to rise in the next few years.

As a result, 41% of those data center managers surveyed said they'll have to make upgrades to their power and cooling systems within the next 36 months.

Results of the survey were presented Monday during the AFCOM user group conference.

The increased demand on power and cooling is the result of a trend toward using smaller servers with more computing power. When you pack them into a rack, the servers generate an enormous amount of heat, but there's no place for the heat to go. Think of a lot of bodies packed into a small room -- the tighter the squeeze, the hotter it gets.

As a result, how to keep the data center cool is a growing concern among data center managers everywhere and they're scrambling for solutions.

Parker Malin, a data center technician for Caterpillar Financial Services Corp., Nashville, Tenn., said the increased use of virtualized servers and blade servers has him working 60 to 70 hours a week, just to upgrade his power distribution system.

Malin, who specializes in the facility side of data center management, said while the new servers freed up floor space, they didn't free up any breaker space and in fact, required him to buy more power distribution units (PDU) and upgrade his UPS system.

"It becomes a money issue, a time issue and I have to shut my facilities down," he said.

While expensive and time consuming, the good news for Malin, is that the solution is simple and he expects the problem to be under control within the year.

Unfortunately, for many data center managers with power and cooling issues the design of the data center is so inadequate and the solution so complex that they're just performing quick fixes, such as placing an air cooler in front of a system, rather than deal with a major overhaul to the power and cooling systems.

Ronnie Jones, director, enterprise operations, University of Arkansas for Medial Sciences, of Little Rock, Ark., said he has "hot pockets" in his data center but isn't sure how he's going to fix it, despite the fact that a recent glitch in the electrical system proved just how bad the situation could get.

When the power went out in his data center, Jones said it took less than 20 minutes for the room temperature to go up 9 degrees, but took four hours to cool it down.

"It took a whole lot longer to cool than it did to heat up," Jones said.

According to Jones, he's got a pretty good case to sell to upper management to fix the problem, but he doesn't see the expense at this point to be worth it -- simply because a major data center move is expected within the next three years. In the short term, he can't expand and he can't move.

He will, however, give power and cooling issues top priority in his new data center. "It's going to be a heck of a lot more important than I thought it was going to be," Jones said, adding he'd likely have to rely on power, cooling and design consultants.

According to experts, dealing with power and cooling distribution in the data center isn't going to go away, it'll only get worse as more data centers are consolidated and servers get more powerful, but more dense.

For more information:

Good planning can ease space concerns

Learning guide: How to design a server room

Power Playbook

Everyone agrees, however, that the way to avoid power and cooling headaches is better planning and finding the right set of products for the specific problem.

Proper power and cooling distribution is key, according to Anand Ekbote, vice president of corporate planning for Liebert Corp., of Columbus, Ohio.

"It's all about getting it to where you need it," he said. "You should have a solution to help you deliver that."

Data center managers should not allow power decisions to be made in isolation -- meaning without understanding the impact the power performance has on the IT infrastructure.

"Whatever [configuration] you decide on the power side is going to affect your IT side," Ekbote said.

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