eBay tackles energy efficiency, e-waste in the data center

Heather Peck, senior manager of infrastructure at eBay says data center power issues aren't going away anytime soon. Even as vendors come up with more efficient servers, density problems will continue to plague data center managers.

Heather Peck, senior manager of infrastructure at eBay says data center power issues aren't going away anytime soon. Even as vendors come up with more efficient servers, density problems will continue to plague data center managers. SearchDataCenter.com caught up with Peck at a Sun Microsystems event on energy efficiency last week.

What kind of research has eBay done in regard to its data center's energy usage?

Heather Peck: A lot of our research is done real time, dealing with it on a daily basis. When your system density goes up, your power usage goes up. We're looking for where the sweet spot is. What is the right amount of wattage per square foot?

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The conclusion we have come to is that it's something you're always looking at, making the decisions with the info you have today. It's very fluid. The data centers we're building today -- we're building them with the information we have now.

In four years the data center design needs are going to be refreshed, which fortunately also matches the refresh cycle of hardware.

Companies cite power and cooling as a major problem facing their organizations, but so far a very small percentage of companies are doing anything about it. Can companies do anything about energy consumption?

Peck: I definitely think they can. You need to look at where you're consuming your power. It's our responsibility as shareholders in our companies and ultimately people who live on this earth, not to consume any more than is necessary. That's the stance eBay is taking.

What part of the company is putting on the pressure to address this problem?

Peck: Primarily it's the CFO [chief financial officer] that sees the bills for the hardware and colocation facilities. However, with engineers concerned with how many servers there are and how to optimize features to use them efficiently; and operations people trying to tackle the task of managing 16,000 active servers, a positive byproduct is also reduction in total energy consumption.

Are customers going to begin demanding environmental responsibility from companies like eBay and other Web giants?

Peck: I don't think we should wait for customers. It's something that needs to be addressed proactively because it's the right thing to do, not because someone demanded it. But yes, I do think the question will eventually come up.

Are there any organizations or companies that are leading the discussion in this area?

Peck: There are organizations that support companies trying to do better in this area. For example, we have a program where we donate obsolete hardware to teachers and schools. Some equipment is unusable, so rather than donate it and make it someone else's problem we had to put together a disposal program. Our recyclers all worked within the law of what's socially and environmentally responsible, but we wanted to go beyond that. Just because it's legal doesn't mean that it's right.

Silicon Valley Toxics -- we went to them and looked at their standards. They're members of the Basil Action Network [BAN]. Vendors that sign this pledge won't fill up landfills and won't export to third world countries. Having signed the "BAN pledge" was the first step in determining whether a vendor was even considered as a disposal partner.

The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and others recently developed a standard to measure server power consumption. Is this something you would use?

Peck: We built our own model. We measure CPU consumption in relation to power draw and rack space. For example, when evaluating the next-gen search platform we used this model and determined that commodity servers were the way to go. For other platforms in our environment this would not necessarily be the case. [Note: eBay is using Sun's Niagara-based Sun Fire servers.]

Are data center power requirements a problem that will be solved anytime soon?

Peck: No. It's going to get worse. And then as systems get more power efficient -- as they are starting to do -- there will be new bottlenecks to deal with. Getting more power efficient means denser environments, which require more networks ports, better cooling, stronger racks, more cabling -- which all present a challenge. It's going to take constant retrofitting to deal with each issue as we come across it.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, Site Editor

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