Keeping enough power to data centres a key issue

By Merri Mack
Friday, 08 October, 2010


It doesn’t depend on size or location, but wherever a data centre is you can be sure one of the main concerns of the operators is that they have enough power to keep servicing their clients. With data centres consuming around 2% of all power in the US and similar amounts in other countries, the race is on to guarantee sufficient power, reports Merri Mack.

Data centres are not just about power either; they are about real estate (space) and security. I recently visited one of the biggest commercial data centres in the Southern Hemisphere run by Global Switch. For a start it was very close to a major CBD, took up one city block, covered seven floors and has a development application for a further 20,000 square metres of data centre space to expand into an adjacent car park.

Harbour MSP, which runs a data services hosting business from the Global Switch data centre facility, was involved with the Global Switch facility from its inception.

Andrew Hardy, Commercial Director of Harbour MSP, showed me around the facility once I had passed the stringent security - which meant I had to be registered 24 hours before my appointment and once there I went through a heavy two-way glass door with a weighing machine on the floor of the crossover point registering my weight.

From the top to the bottom of the facility, which only has two entrances, I saw the power supply of 2 x 33,000 volts coming in from the grid with a forward supply for many years already secured, two water feeds from Sydney Water, fire detection units using Integrin gas with redundancy, seven Trane chillers with five in use and two for redundancy.

As Hardy pointed out, there is in-built redundancy on redundancy and absolutely nothing is left to chance. Other equipment includes Caterpillar generators, Piller UPSs, diesel generators that could operate for 48 hours at full load if need be, and security firewalls from two vendors.

Sydney has a ratio of 60:4 of Tier 3 data centre capacity compared to Melbourne. Hardy said this was mainly due to the landing stations for the undersea communications cable like Southern Cross terminating in Sydney, which made it more feasible to build in Sydney.

Harbour MSP has plans to build a 1000-square-metre Tier 3 facility at Port Melbourne with E3. The Port Melbourne site has access to fibre networks from Telstra, Nextgen and Optus’s Uecomm. It is expected to be wired up to a power substation when it opens in December. A second substation will be connected next March.

The two companies will kit the data centre out with generators and uninterruptible power supplies to meet a Tier 3 rating.

It will have standard racks of 3 kW plus separate suites of APC in-row cooled pods offering up to of 35 kW a rack.

Hardy said it took three years to find Melbourne data centre space. “There is such a lack of quality data centre space in Melbourne,” he said. “There is something like 60,000 square metres of commercially available space in Sydney, either built or planned, but very little in Melbourne.”

After false starts on potential sites, Harbour MSP hired E3 Networks, which last December completed its own data centre in the bayside suburb of Port Melbourne that is used by Pipe Networks and Intervolve.

Hardy said he was impressed that E3 had “executed on three or four boutique data centres in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane”.

It was also looking to invest in a 10 gigabit ethernet link between its Sydney and Melbourne sites for data replication and disaster recovery services.

Last year Gartner held its infrastructure and operations conference in Sydney. At the conference presentations, client meetings and workshops, a number of key data centre issues were reported by attendees to be of concern. Namely, running out of data centre floor space and energy.

Gartner analysts Rakesh Kumar and Phillip Sargeant reported that energy consumption in data centres was increasing by 10% to 20% a year with visits to data centres in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney indicating that most sites are more than five years old and are not able to take advantage of the latest energy management software tools. Data centre energy issues were prioritised as the following:

  • Managing cooling
  • Creating hot/cold aisles
  • Layout of servers to minimise cooling costs
  • Raising the temperature of the data centre
  • Virtualisation
  • Free air cooling
  • Switching off non-essential servers
  • Using energy management software tools

One note of concern that arose from client conversations was the low level of priority given to using energy management software tools. Unfortunately, this again is consistent with other regions around the globe. “Selection of these tools should be part of the initial data centre design phase,” said Sargeant.

It goes without saying that healthcare is one of the most critical environments for power management and protection, none more so than critical care centres like The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Systems and Communications Manager Barry Darnton says most of the hospital’s patient records are now electronic, and while comprehensive manual processes are in place to ensure smooth operation in the event of a power failure, this makes power no less critical

“We have several communications cupboards and more than 200 servers in a central computer room, all protected by the latest UPS technology from Emerson,” says Darnton. “When it comes to providing primary and critical healthcare, it’s important not to take any shortcuts in the provision of infrastructure that supports and extends the life of our information systems, and this is one of my main priorities for the hospital.”

The hospital uses a 120 kVA Liebert UPS to protect its computer room, with a smaller Liebert GXT device protecting the communications equipment. The singular choice in both these applications is true online or ‘double conversion’ technology, which essentially separates the critical application (load) from the mains power. This technology isolates power disturbances of all kinds, delivering maximum protection and system availability. From the three types of power protection available today - offline, line interactive and true online - only the latter ensures optimal power quality for business-critical environments, where even the smallest disturbance could seriously affect the availability of the systems the UPS is designed to protect.

Hewlett-Packard (HP), in partnership with Triforce Australia, has worked together to deploy the first HP 20-foot performance optimised datacentre (POD) in the Asia-Pacific region for Australia’s data centre specialist Verb Data Centre (Verb DC).

Located at North Wyong on the NSW Central Coast, Verb DC provides IT and data centre services for SMB, enterprises and government tenants who need resilient, high-density computing yet often face capital constraints and increasing power costs. Through the use of the HP POD, Verb DC is now able to help its clients increase efficiency, reduce costs and simplify the complexity of their IT environments.

“We view the current business conditions as an opportunity to implement a modular, resilient and flexible data centre offering, whilst reducing power and cooling requirements,” said Chris Clifford, Director, Verb DC.

“Power is probably the most significant issue of operating a data centre. In relation to power, customers actually want us to look at power reduction, while at the same time being able to increase power loads per rack in the data centre.

“Besides having access to a highly skilled workforce on the Central Coast, there is abundant access to power and fibre-optic networks,” said Clifford.

The energy efficiencies of POD have also enabled Verb DC to offer their customers value-added services at no additional cost. Using the PUE ratio, a POD rates as low as 1.25 compared with a traditional bricks and mortar data centre, which is around 2.

Christian Bertolini, Chief Technology Officer, APC by Schneider Electric, queries whether PUE is the right metric.

Today, the market talks about data centres with PUEs that are more relevant to sci-fi stories than reality. The end result is, what could be a good tool is prone to misuse for marketing and sales purposes. The hype around PUE means that it is now used as an objective rather than a tool to benchmark and understand where the room for improvement is.

Unfortunately, in a society hungry for instant gratification, this is what has become of the simple energy-efficiency metric. We need to look again at overall efficiency and determine the best way to improve standards rather than seek to achieve marketing-led PUE targets.

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