Improving data centre efficiency

Thursday, 01 April, 2010

Clearly, improved electrical efficiency within the IT room - the ‘greening of the data center’ - is now a priority. APC’s Gordon Makryllos * outlines why data centres are so energy inefficient and offers practical tips that they can use to become ‘green’.

Data centre power consumption is rapidly becoming a global issue - as both an environmental concern and a business matter. As energy costs skyrocket, IT departments are facing increased C-level demands to bring the escalating power and cooling expenses of today’s high-density deployments under control. And growing public concern over the long-term health of our planet has forward-thinking corporations (as well as governments) looking at ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As companies have continued to use technology to support the most important aspects of their business processes, the installed base of servers has continued to climb at a rapid rate. In 1996, IDC estimated that five million servers were installed on a worldwide basis and expected it to climb to 45 million servers by 2010. Interestingly, customer spending on servers has grown only modestly over the same period as average server prices continue to drop dramatically. This is due to the introduction of x86-based systems that quickly found favour for their low cost and constantly improving functionality.

Although customers have been able to add significant processing capabilities into their environment while keeping hardware budgets essentially flat for the last 10 years, the consequence of this large increase in the installed base of servers has been a rapid increase in systems management costs and power and cooling costs.

Server power and cooling costs are growing at eight times the rate of new server investment and will equate to two-thirds of new server spending by 2010. This shift in IT costs has many customers re-evaluating the economic models for their data centres.

These power inefficiencies are often the consequence of old data centre designs which don’t allow data centre managers to install the needed hardware.

Practical tips to improve the electrical efficiency of a data centre cover the following:

Right-size your infrastructure

Use a modular, scalable power and cooling architecture that allows you to deploy as needed and avoid ‘just in case’ oversizing. This is the single best strategy for improving data centre efficiency. Savings are even greater for redundant systems.

Virtualise servers

Consolidating your applications into fewer servers, typically blade servers, frees up power and cooling capacity for expansion.

Use a more efficient air conditioner architecture

Instead of room-based cooling, deploy row-based units, which promote higher efficiency in high-density environments. Shorter air paths require less fan power.

Efficient floor layout

Employ a hot-aisle/cold-aisle configuration with suitable air conditioner locations.

More efficient power equipment

New best-in-class UPS systems significantly improve efficiency at typical operating loads. Light-load efficiency is the key parameter, not the full-load efficiency. And don’t forget that UPS inefficiency losses must also be cooled, doubling their cost.

Locate vented floor tiles correctly

Data centres using a raised floor often do not have the right number of vented tiles, nor are they located correctly. Locating tiles properly will also reduce hot spots.

Coordinate air conditioners

Many data centres have multiple air conditioners that actually undermine one another’s performance. Get a professional assessment to diagnose and correct problems.

Install energy-efficient lighting

Use more efficient lighting. Lighting power must also be cooled, doubling its cost. Turn off some or all via time-of-day or motion settings.

Install blanking panels

This strategy reduces hot spots and saves energy. New snap-in toolless blanking panels make installation easy and inexpensive.

* Gordon Makryllos is the country general manager, APC, Pacific. He has extensive experience in managing IT organizations, having joined APC in 2005 from Siemens where he was general manager of sales and marketing. Other high-profile roles include managing director for PictureTel, as well as senior positions at Telstra, IBM, Lotus Software and HP.

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