Vendors address power, cooling

By Kevin Komiega

Some call it a crisis, and others call it a growing problem, but everyone agrees that powering the data center is becoming increasingly expensive. Power and cooling problems are creeping to the forefront of hot-button IT issues and, in some cases, are forcing end users to change their buying behaviors and even build more data centers. In response, storage vendors are starting to take the albatross of energy consumption seriously and are beginning to offer tools and products to help users rein in the skyrocketing costs of running the data center.

End users in the Fortune 1000 say power consumption is already a critical issue in their organizations and it’s only going to get worse. Bob Gill, chief research officer for TheInfoPro (TIP) research firm, says saving money on power and cooling requirements is climbing the list of priorities for large companies.

“It’s a huge problem for companies with thousands of servers and terabytes or petabytes of data. Any small amount of energy efficiency they can achieve translates into a big deal,” says Gill.

One offshoot of the power problem is the construction of more facilities. According to TheInfoPro, 20% of Fortune 1000 users surveyed said the cost of energy is contributing to accelerated plans for additional data centers.

“The dirty little secret is that while products are getting smaller, faster, and more dense, nobody bothered to tell the vendors that they also have to be energy-efficient,” says Gill.

The pursuit of energy-efficient storage is a quirky quest. When concerns over power and cooling problems started coming to the forefront, according to Gill, storage systems were all but omitted as a major offender in the data-center power drain. “When the issue first emerged nobody pointed at storage; they all pointed at the server and chip vendors. The server and chip vendors have been wrestling with this issue for a couple of years,” adds Gill.

Green Grid

Silicon specialists such as AMD and Intel have been one-upping each other in recent years with more energy-efficient chip designs. AMD went so far as to create a non-profit association called the Green Grid with co-founders that include APC, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Rackable Systems, SprayCool, Sun, and VMware.

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The Green Grid, which was launched last year, is an organization aiming to decrease data-center energy usage patterns by defining best practices in data-center operation, as well as construction and design.

The Grid’s members set up a clearinghouse of information for IT pros and are working with organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Alliance to Save Energy to identify new industry standards and metrics related to energy.

The Green Grid is designed to function as an interactive body of members who will share best practices in data-center power management. Industry experts are slated to lead interactive online discussion boards, live chats, and Webinars to raise awareness and foster discussion around critical aspects of data-center management.

Whether a storage-specific project similar to the Green Grid is on the horizon remains to be seen, but, in the meantime, storage vendors seem to be taking the energy crisis seriously and are attempting to get ahead of the curve by developing tools and technologies that help manage power consumption.

EMC, for example, recently rolled out the EMC Energy Efficiency Services, a set of assessment and planning services designed to help customers maximize energy efficiency in the data center. The company has also introduced the EMC Power Calculator, a tool that provides customers with accurate energy consumption data and cooling requirements for EMC arrays-including the Symmetrix DMX-3, Clariion CX3 UltraScale, and Celerra networked storage systems-based on their specific configuration and workload requirements.

Some vendors are already shipping storage hardware with energy-conscious architectures. For example, Copan Systems’ MAID (Massive Array of Idle Disks) arrays power-off disks when they are not in use, thereby reducing power usage and extending the life of the disk drives.

HP is also developing systems for controlling power and cooling resources in the data center. HP Dynamic Smart Cooling technology uses a combination of sensors with control nodes that monitor temperatures in parts of the data center. These nodes manage air conditioners for better control of the IT environment, so you don’t have to cool a whole room to accommodate a few racks in one area of the data center. HP uses the technology in its own labs facilities and claims that Dynamic Smart Cooling can help reduce power requirements by 30% to 60%, depending on the infrastructure.

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Seagate will also join the fray with future hard drive designs that deliver more performance per watt and consume less power.

“It’s just a matter of time. We are already seeing our customers beginning to develop greener storage solutions,” says Gianna DaGiau, a senior marketing manager at Seagate.

EPA weighs in

The government is also weighing in on the issue. Last December, the EPA issued an open letter via its Website to all enterprise server manufacturers that stated that the EPA is initiating its process to develop an Energy Star specification for servers. In the coming months, the EPA plans to conduct an analysis to determine whether such a specification for servers is viable, given current market dynamics, the availability and performance of energy-efficient designs, and the potential energy savings.

Servers could soon be sporting the Energy Star sticker currently found on more than 35,000 products in more than 50 product categories. With all of the attention being paid to a greener IT world, it’s likely that defining an Energy Star specification for storage systems may be in the offing.

But the end-user community seems to be hamstrung by their application requirements and IT budgets. Few are willing to pay more money for energy-efficient systems unless there is a significant amount of savings to be gained when they open the electric bill. At the end of the day, critical business applications have to be supported, regardless of whether the underlying infrastructure is energy-efficient.

“Power and cooling concerns are definitely factoring in to users’ purchasing behaviors, but they are not necessarily in a position to change vendors’ [design plans],” says TheInfoPro’s Gill.

This article was originally published on March 01, 2007