IT grapples with overcrowded, energy-guzzling data centres

These days Andrew Fanara isn’t worrying about the massive amounts of electricity a big-screen TV consumes; he’s thinking about how electrical consumption in the data centre is accelerating from the use of power-hungry servers and other network gear.

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Fanara is programme manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program, which rates consumer appliances. He spoke this week at the AFCOM Data centre World conference, where 850 data centre managers and IT professionals tuned in to hear Fanara talk about the government’s efforts to promote energy efficiency in data centres.

Powering the data centre

High energy consumption in the data centre is creating challenges for IT managers. Here are some numbers to watch:

• Over the next five years, power failures and limits on power availability will halt data centre operations at more than 90 percent of all companies, data centre association AFCOM predicts.

• Between 8% and 10% of servers in data centres have no identifiable function, according to Sun.

• Most data centres already are well past the cooling capacity provided by raised floors, which is typically about 4kW to 6kW per rack, Sun reports. Racks above 12kW are probably blade-based and will require supplemental cooling.

• IT equipment consumes 50% of data centre power, according to consulting firm EYP Mission Critical Facilities.

Electricity is the lifeblood of a data centre, Fanara said. “Ironically it is the inefficient use of that energy that creates the challenges that many [data centre managers] are facing in terms of running out of power, having to go build additional data centres, incurring that cost, not utilising the IT assets as much as [they] probably would like to," he said. “All of that creates significant challenges."

Several sources confirm enterprises are struggling with jam-packed data centres. A recent survey from storage vendor OnStor of 369 IT professionals found that 63% of organisations have run out of space, power or cooling capacity without warning. Further, at their current data growth rate, 43% of respondents said they could stay in their present infrastructure for only six months to one year if they changed nothing.

Those figures gibe with research from Gartner, which reports that 50% of current data centres by 2008 will have insufficient power and cooling capacity to meet the demands of high-density equipment.

At the AFCOM event, Fanara pinpointed the electricity-gulping x86-based server as the first target of the EPA’s attention.

“Volume servers are probably the largest consumers of energy. They are not the most efficient in terms of their energy use and thus are the biggest opportunities going forward," Fanara said.

To help spell out just how much power servers draw, the EPA plans to develop -- as soon as year-end -- Energy Star standards for servers that will let vendors test for energy efficiency and computing performance and brand their servers with Energy Star ratings, which were previously reserved for consumer appliances.

The EPA also will release recommendations for more efficient server power supplies. Between 1kWh and 1.5 kWh of power can be saved for every 1kWh saved at the plug, according to the EPA. The agency is working with a group called the Climate Savers Computing Initiative to develop power supplies that are 90 percent more efficient than earlier models and could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tons per year, potentially saving more than $5.5bn in energy costs.

A test procedure also has been developed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit energy and environmental research centre, to verify power supply efficiency, reliability and performance.

Looking ahead, Fanara said the industry needs a means to measure the energy consumption of servers, storage and other network gear that takes into account not only the capability of the product but also its real-world performance.

That’s something the Standard Performance Evaluation (SPEC), an industry group that provides system performance tests, is working on. “SPEC is creating a power and performance benchmark, the first of its type, which measures server performance in a real-world situation," Fanara said. The EPA will review the benchmark for possible near term inclusion in Energy Star specifications, he said.

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