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Data center power management at forefront of IT agenda

In their data center power management tactics, managers attempt to squeeze as much capacity out of every energy dollar as possible.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Data center power management is front and center of IT and facility managers' agendas, as they look to control energy costs and get the most from the data centers they have.

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While those running out of power in their current facilities have looked to squeeze out as much capacity they can, even those managers with fairly new data centers seek a better way to measure what they have so they can fill up their server racks as much as possible.

Such is the case for Rodney Earp, a systems specialist in the data center operations and planning department for a North Carolina bank. The company just revamped its entire data center and, according to Earp, the work was "redone pretty well." Yet Earp doesn't lacks the visibility into his data center as he would like. Currently his staff can see the energy consumption down to the room power distribution units, which is at the 30-amp level. He would like to get down to the cabinet level, even to the socket level.

"The faceplate info on servers is not always correct," said Earp who attended AFCOM's Data Center World conference in Nashville this week. "It doesn't give you a good indication of how the server is running."

Data center power management common problem
Earp's is a common problem in the data center today. The facility manager wants to get as much capacity out of each server cabinet, but isn't sure how to get there.

Because data center floor space is getting more valuable, Earp said, it's best to fit as much IT equipment into each server cabinet as he can. To do so properly, he wants to see how much energy each cabinet actually consumes. Then he can see how much capacity he has left and fill the cabinet to the right level without blowing circuits.

So Earp has weighed different vendors' "intelligent" power distribution units. PDUs are essentially power strips for the data center, but PDU vendors continue to add more energy consumption data to their devices so end users can view how much power each piece of IT equipment uses.

In some cases, the data center manager can resort to drastic measures to control energy consumption.

Brian Lillie, CIO of data center colocation company Equinix, said that at his previous job at VeriSign, where the data center actually ran out of power, they had to rule power use with a heavy hand.

"We had a power board," he said. "Oh, so you want to add an application? OK, which one are you going to end of life? Because we have no power."

Lillie said Equinix recently put together a request for proposal for servers, and all the vendors pitched power management features right off the bat. That was a surprise to him.

And while Lillie's old data center may have run out of power, in many situations a data center manager may think he's out of power when that isn't the case.

"There are customers that think they're out of power, but the fact is that they're 30% underutilized at the cabinet level," said Ted Behrens, product management director at Chatsworth Products.

Traci Yarborough, the director of product marketing at Aperture, agreed. She's working with a financial customer that scaled its data center racks to handle 8 kilowatts (kW) per rack, thinking it used 5 kW per rack. As it turns out, it used only 2 kW per rack.

"If companies look at what they model versus what they use, even by de-rating [the faceplate], they're still often overprovisioning," she said.

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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