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Data center managers need to manage power proactively

A panel of data center industry IT vendors and researchers cites low uptake of available power management tools as a cause of wasted power.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14, a panel of IT and power supply vendors showed clear frustration over power issues that could be solved if data center managers only used the tools and technologies available to them.

"[Customers ] want us to develop technologies to help them save on power, but they don't use the technologies that are already available."
Dick Sullivan,
 director of enterprise solutions marketingEMC Corp.

The panel included representatives from EMC Corp., American Power Conversion Corp. (APC), Hewlett-Packard Co., the Uptime Institute Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which sponsored the Cambridge, Mass., event to discuss power efficiency in the data center.

Vendor panel participants reiterated repeatedly that power management technology is available, but users aren't implementing them in data centers.

"I have regular conversations with customers who ask what [EMC] is working on, and they say they want us to develop technologies to help them save on power, but they don't use the technologies that are already available," said Dick Sullivan, EMC's director of enterprise solutions marketing. "I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who just realized they are out of power when the new storage is arriving on the dock."

Power-saving technologies and automation
Existing technologies and strategies could reduce typical server energy use by an estimated 25%, and U.S. data centers can potentially save up to $4 billion in annual electricity costs through more energy-efficient equipment and operations as well as broad implementation of best management practices, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Congress this month on server and data center energy efficiency.

Solving the problem starts with figuring out how much power the data center consumes and where. Brent Kerby, product marketing manager with AMD, said most data center managers don't know how much power the data center consumes or understand how much work is getting done at that power level.

Panelists agreed that automating the measurement and control of power use is key to creating data center energy efficiency and that such efforts could "easily" save at least 50% of a data center's power consumption costs.

HP's Infrastructure Technologist Ken Baker said, "You can't manage what you don't measure. Every bit of technology we create won't matter if people never use it."

Over the past five years, server and data center energy consumption has doubled; over the next five years, it is expected to nearly double again to more than 100 billion kWh, costing about $7.4 billion annually, the EPA reports.

Proactive implementation of technologies that control power use can stem a looming power crisis, Baker said. "We've given you the tools, all the little knobs and switches, but getting people to use [them] is the challenge," Baker said. "Automation technologies let us modulate power, and can help us be more energy efficient."

HP offers software for managing its own servers and storage and Windows, HP-UX, Linux, and NonStop operating systems called HP Insight Manager. The company also sells a power-capping remote management tool for its ProLiant and BladeSystem infrastructure called HP Insight Control.

Vendors like AMD have a lot of technologies in the pipeline to increase power efficiency, but very few actually make it to the market, according to Samuel Naffziger, a senior fellow at AMD.

"The challenge vendors have is determining which technologies will actually be tapped into by end users," Naffziger said.

AMD's quad-core processor Barcelona helps to control power. The processor can control each of the four cores individually, so portions of the chip can be turned on and off when not in use. "We will see more system components added on to the chip in the future, and we'll have more control over those components," Naffziger said.

HP's Baker also talked up electrical efficiency by using blade servers, which require fewer fans and electrical supplies, as well as with virtualization technology, which saves space, energy and power.

While some 38% to 63% of data center power is dedicated to servers, the second most significant power abuser is air conditioning, which consumes between 23% and 54% of a data center's power supply, according to AMD research.

Power your cooling
John Tuccillo, marketing director at APC, said that a shift in data center design has occurred, and aspects that were once an afterthought, like power supplies and cooling, are becoming priorities of savvy data center designers.

"Think of a hotel, and imagine one thermostat controlling the entire building as opposed to having one in every room. Now take that scenario to the data center. If you manage your cooling technology in separate parts of the room, cooling more in hotter areas and less in cooler areas, you are going to be much more efficient," Tuccillo said.

The average data center uses three times more air conditioning than is required, in many cases because of incorrect configurations, said Bruce Taylor, the Uptime Institute's chief strategist for large-scale server computing and data center, energy efficiency and productivity research initiatives.

"There are data centers configured a certain way for aesthetic reasons rather than for power efficiency, like hot and cold aisles. Water and liquid cooling by itself can have a tremendous impact on efficiency. It is 3,000 times more efficient than air cooling, and that is extraordinary," Taylor said.

Green data center design
Measuring data center efficiency, and having a metric to do so, is a major initiative at the Uptime Institute as well as a central feature of the EPA's Energy Star program. Energy Star is in the process of determining whether the organization should measure servers and data center power supplies, said Arthur Howard, an ICF International Inc. consultant for Energy Star.

The Uptime Institute is developing metrics to guide the design of green data centers. "We all hear people talking about green data centers as if we know what that means. We have people putting out bike racks and solar panels, but this doesn't get to the root of the problem," said Taylor.

A white paper presented at the meeting provides an overview of the four metrics that may be used to guide the creation of green data centers. The categories are efficient physical site infrastructure; utilization of hardware and applications; efficient delivery of power from the plug to internal hardware components; and maximum computational performance per unit of internal power consumed.

The Portland, Ore.-based Green Grid, a consortium of about 80 IT companies and professionals seeking to improve energy efficiency in data centers, is working on similar initiatives as well. The group will lay out a technical roadmap on ways of improving performance and energy-efficient technologies later this year.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

Also, check out our data center news blog at

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