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Power management technology for the green data center

Green technology has always had its roots in power management technologies. After all, you need to be able to manage and measure power consumption to determine how energy efficient a

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technology is. With that in mind, numerous vendors, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co., have introduced software and hardware packages to reduce power consumption. Yet, there is still much progress to be made, especially when it comes to creating a green data center.

Gaps in green technology capabilities
Most data center managers have incorporated some form of green technology, hoping to reduce power footprints and heat generation. However, much of the technology in place borders on the obvious, such as servers that use efficient power supplies, operating systems that can throttle down CPUs using Advanced Configuration and Power Interface settings and storage devices that “sleep” when not in use.

Many IT managers are now looking to redesigning applications and changing configurations to achieve even more savings in a green data center. Those efforts have resulted in technologies, such as virtual servers, virtual desktop infrastructures, cloud-based applications and energy-aware desktop asset management packages.

However, even those more advanced technologies all seem to share one thing in common: the inability to demonstrate measurable savings. That capability is exactly what the data center needs today--a way to measure power usage and calculate savings, and then use that information to create policies that reduce power usage and heat generation.

Options for measuring and monitoring power usage
Some vendors have taken that challenge head on and are finding innovative ways to introduce power measurement and management into the data center, without requiring a major rip and replace of hardware and software. Case in point is the Eaton Corp., which has introduced a new product line of data center uninterruptable power supplies (UPSes) that incorporate power management and monitoring technology.

According to Eaton, the new 5PX series are the first UPSes that offer monitoring of individual devices plugged into each outlet. The 5PX UPSes are designed for data center racks, where intelligent power management will truly be a benefit.

The key advantage offered with Eaton’s technologies is that data center managers can monitor power consumption at the device level and determine true power consumption. With that information, managers can improve deployment of equipment by matching the power profiles of equipment to the power infrastructure of the individual device, preventing over utilization and underutilization of individual racks, while also balancing heat generation across racks.

Some other critical features offered by Eaton’s new UPSes include the company’s Intelligent Power Manager (IPM) application, which is designed to support virtualized environments. IPM integrates with VMware’s vCenter and Microsoft’s System Center Virtual Machine Manager, and enables administrators to create granular power management policies, which can be used to  control the power-up and shutdown of virtual machines that can reduce power consumption.

Eaton is not the only vendor looking to improve UPS functionality.  American Power Conversion Corp., APC (a division of Schneider Electric,) is also pushing green data center technology via new products, including intelligent power strips under the company’s InfraStruxture product line. Those devices can  shut down outlets automatically. The company also offers data center racks that incorporate cooling, UPS and hardware monitoring.

HP and IBM also on green bandwagon
Nevertheless, there is still a great deal more that can be done with green technology, especially in the data center. Large vendors, such as HP and IBM, are trying to push the limits with new green data center designs and experimental technologies.  

HP is dedicating part of its 50,000-square-foot Colorado Springs, Colo., data center to running what it calls, “sustainable data center technologies.” The company is experimenting with a range of technologies, including new sensors and data analytics, free air-side cooling techniques and microgrid technologies.

Some of the key components of HP Labs' Sustainable Data Center Project are new experimental environmental sensors that measure heat humidity and other data elements, all of which can be used for load calculations when rationing power and cooling loads.

The company is going one step further by splitting the data center into two primary halls and performing active comparisons between different technologies. With all other things being equal, HP will be able to monitor how specific architectural or technology changes to one side of the facility help that side perform, and actively compare it to the other side.

With HP’s unique approach, the company should be able to study the energy and cooling impact from  adjusting IT workloads. Technology changes, such as  moving loads from one sort of disk storage technology to another, can also be measured for power consumption. Those experiments should result in white papers and sage advice on designing a green data center for the future. HP will also test cooling and heating technologies that take advantage of local conditions. In HP’s case, the research facility will include air- and water-side economizers that use the ambient low humidity and cool air of the Rocky Mountain region to HP’s advantage.

For example, HP will be able to use cold outside air to meet as much as 75% of its data center cooling needs. That can show how critical selecting a location can be for maximizing power savings in a data center.

IBM is taking a somewhat different approach by building new data centers that incorporate the hottest green technologies. Its latest data center sites are located in India and New Zealand are being promoted as  showcases of efficiency by the company. IBM has incorporated the latest virtualization and power management technologies to improve efficiencies, as well as designing data centers from the ground-up to reduce power consumption, with improved airflow designs, reduced cooling and heating requirements, as well as incorporating renewable energy sources. IBM hopes that companies will look to outsourced data center hosts to achieve green goals, where companies can switch over to Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, Platform as a Service and other cloud technologies to reduce their power usage footprints.

The lesson here is that there are many ways to go green, and the technology is getting better all the time. However, power use measurement is the most critical piece of the puzzle to prove if savings are being realized.

Frank Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology arena. He has written for several leading technology and business publications, and was also executive technology editor at eWEEK and director at CRN Test Center.

This was first published in July 2011

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