Friday, 3 February 2012

Going modular: opportunities to improve energy efficiency in the data centre

A guest post from David Palmer-Stevens, Systems Integration Manager, EMEA at Panduit.

All the way from design to operations, 2012 will be a challenging year for the data centre industry. The main challenge stems from the ever-increasing availability of cloud computing services. With its seductive pricing model, CFOs will be asking why their internal IT resources cost more to run than renting cloud services. Interestingly, the steps that can be taken to compete with cloud services push traditional data centres into much greater energy efficiency.

Going modular is the key to efficiency. However, the first step in this game of survival is to consolidate everything possible, using virtualisation as an effective way to combine servers. Consolidation must be deployed in modules, building up and out, and using the form of containment that best fits the environment.

Once the surplus IT equipment has been shed, the next step is to review the construction model in the data centre, focusing on power and cooling systems. Using Hot Aisle or Cold Aisle can achieve up to a 23% reduction in cooling by keeping the cooling closely coupled to the IT load. This allows the cooling system to reduce its own output alongside low periods in IT use. Using variable torque motors can also save 50% of the electricity for a 20% drop in load.

Internal IT staff must furthermore design in the kind of flexibility and scalability inherent in cloud deployments within their own data centres, in order to compete with external cloud suppliers. But since spare capacity is wasteful - in the same way that over-provisioning is wasteful in traditional data centres - the answer is modular construction. Modular data centres - pre-fabricated date centre units that are easily portable and scalable - can offer flexible expansion options including variable cooling and power generation options. A modular construction keeps the use of resources to a minimum while allowing the same dynamic load response delivered by cloud services.

There are aspects of cloud services that can bring benefits to internal IT support, since they offer staff a useful way to instantly provision new services. Throw out the old provisioning process which, in some market sectors, can take up to 90 days from service request to service delivery, and replace it with services from the cloud. The instant availability means IT staff can meet business requirements while gaining time to construct additional modules. Using containment, these modules can run in parallel with the external service, before switching over to being run by the business.

To deliver cloud services and be affordable in the future low provisioning costs are essential. Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) is a key tool now gaining acceptance in the market for bringing management and automation to the physical deployment and environment of IT equipment. The old adage ‘you cannot manage what you cannot see’ very much applies to the data centre’s physical connectivity, power distribution and cooling efficiency, including airflow and humidity. Traditional data centres have relied on periodic Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis to gauge cooling efficiencies. The deployment of DCIM means dynamic CFD analysis can take place in real time, providing more information on how the data centre performs over time.

This ability to gauge trends and patterns across both IT demand and power consumption will provide a firmer overview of how the company is performing in terms of Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and overall business benefit. The aim is to reach a PUE of close to 1.0, with higher figures indicating less energy efficiency. Traditional data centre rooms or buildings can have a PUE of 2.0 or more. HP claims their modular EcoPOD data centres, which use mostly external air for cooling, can attain a PUE of 1.2 depending on external air temperature.

Consolidation of traditional server rooms and use of modular data centre construction can significantly streamline IT infrastructure while increasing efficiency and therefore energy consumption. The move to modular data centres is not only cost effective but, fortunately, can be implemented quickly, with the modular design optimal for fast deployment and construction. And time is of the essence if traditional data centres are to keep up with the fast-paced competition offered by cloud computing services.

© The Green IT Review

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