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In measuring data center power use, more (info) is more

Large corporations and colocation companies measure data center power consumption throughout their facilities, and now other companies are following suit.

Today, data center managers find that they can't improve what they can't see, and so they are looking to measure power downstream from a data center's utility meter.

According to's Data Center Decisions purchasing intentions survey, 84% of 670 respondents said that reducing data center power consumption was important. And yet according to the same report, 36% didn't know how their power bills compared with the previous year.

For more on data center energy measurement:
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This lack of awareness, however, has started to change.

James Rohan, a mechanical engineer at Penn State University, said the school's data centers don't yet measure power consumption downstream from the utility meter, but now the school is installing a new electrical service that will allow such measurements.

The difference between power levels at the utility and downstream can be taken up by leakage, such as when power conversions are done in equipment, or in the energy it takes to cool the facility.

Large data center operators like Microsoft and Google have already said that measuring power consumption is key to energy efficiency. Last year, Microsoft demonstrated how it measured power downstream from the utility using a homegrown tool called Scry. It includes sensors around the data center that tie into the company's configuration management database (CMDB) and asset management software to give data center staff details on energy use and carbon footprint. The product was so detailed that it could give information on the power consumption of a specific Microsoft external application such as Hotmail.

Measuring energy leakage: Catching up with the colos

Three places to measure data center power usage
Three places to measure data center power usage
  • Uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Just about every data center has them, and they provide power consumption information, but the data can't be specified down to the rack or server level.
  • Power distribution unit (PDU). These are like power strips for the equipment racks, and modern ones can measure energy use down to the outlet level and report that information back to centralized software. ,/li>
  • Data center sensors. Though these devices don't necessarily measure power consumption of IT equipment, they can give spot readings of data center temperature, humidity and other environmental data, giving data center managers a window into potential power problem areas.


 But most data center operators aren't at this level yet. Duffield, Va.-based colocation company OnePartner currently has two power strips for each of the server cabinets it rents out. The strips provide power readouts without opening the cabinet door. But OnePartner includes power consumption with the cabinet cost -- where the power bill is split among all its customers -- and so it doesn't monitor energy use continuously.

But now some customers have asked for that capability because they want to understand the power envelope for their company servers. So OnePartner will buy so-called intelligent power strips or power distribution units (PDUs), which can provide energy use at the rack or outlet level and report the measure back to connected software.

"It would mean swapping in the smart strips," said Tom Deaderick, the director of OnePartner. "I'm actually considering using it as our default package. That way, customers wouldn't pay more or have any switchover if they wanted to monitor power later on."

Some big colocation companies and cloud computing providers such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon have also been measuring power consumption downstream from the meter so that they can report their power usage effectiveness. PUE is a data center efficiency metric that compares the power coming into the data center facility with the power that the IT equipment consumes. The closer those two are to each other, the more efficient the facility.

But companies like OnePartner are mostly interested in giving customers the option to view their power consumption. And for others, it's just a matter of being able to keep track of what's in the facility.

Better energy metrics give IT a heads up on added/subtracted gear Lance Kekel, the manager of data center operations at a large Midwest retailer, wants a power monitoring program that will alert him when IT staff adds or removes equipment.

"We have a change management process," he said. "Things aren't supposed to go into the racks or come out without my knowledge." But it happens. Right now, the only place Kekel's shop can measure power is at the uninterruptible power supplies (UPSes). Since there is no software that ties in, staff can only check it periodically and then calculate a rough average.

Kekel is working on it. His company bought some PDUs that can measure energy consumption at the rack or outlet level. Eleven of 13 server racks have been fitted with the new PDUs, and Kekel hopes to soon buy the accompanying management module from Hewlett-Packard Co. that will allow him to drill down in more detail.

"This would give me another tool to determine whether something goes in or out," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head, and Server Farming.

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