There’s a divide within data centers today between the people who manage data center cooling, power and security systems, and the IT folks that buy and run the servers. But right now, the efficiencies of IT have more to offer the future of greener data centers, even though efficiency hasn’t always been the main goal of IT.
That market split is the way that Bob Brown, CEO of consulting company Teladata, describes the world of data center efficiency. While the Googles, the Yahoos and the eBays of the world can build energy-efficient data center showpieces, most data centers today are still legacies of the days before energy mattered.
These inefficient data centers haven’t changed their physical layout to implement hot-aisle cold-aisle containment, and have neglected to introduce spot cooling systems as well as the sensors and controls needed to manage it all, he said. “They’re trying to make incremental improvements” he said, and that means that “anything you can do in your IT realm is your first priority.” It’s the low hanging fruit.
Brown explained a key point about data center efficiency to me: some of the biggest improvements aren’t about saving energy at all. Instead, they’re about capacity, or making a data center do more work within its power constraints. That helps put off the really expensive prospect of building a new data center altogether.
Making capacity — or virtualization — puts the efficiency burden on the servers, storage devices and networking equipment that goes into data centers first. Luckily, those devices keep getting better performance-per-watt figures every year, mainly as a virtue of enhanced performance. Servers are also switched out regularly, which opens the doors to tying efficiency upgrades to their replacement, rather than the years-long paybacks associated with facility upgrades.
Teladata certainly knows legacy data centers, having started out as a consultant to clients during the breakup of AT&T in the 1980s. The company is hosting a conference Wednesday at the Santa Clara Convention Center, where discussions on such IT-side innovations as solid state drives and ARM chips for servers, cloud-based storage and physical asset management in virtualized environments will be held alongside discussions on the facilities side, like ASHRAE’s latest cooling guidance or free-air cooling designs like Yahoo’s “chicken coop”-modeled data centers.
But at the end of the day, “the big names in cutting-edge data center efficiency technology are living in a bubble,” Brown said. These few giants have ample budgets to contract for renewable power or can build data centers from scratch. Most data centers have narrower return on investment rules, he said, and can be as short as 17 months for one project.
In general, Brown has seen a surge of interest in data center efficiency, with clients now making buying decisions compared to being in research-only mode in previous years. But the split between facilities and IT is a hard chasm to bridge, particularly when some key metrics in the business — such as power use effectiveness, or PUE, which measures the split between IT and building energy use — can actually get worse as IT efficiency improves.
That catch 22 is too bad, because the common goal of all efficiency projects is a data center that runs “at the limits of your capacity, when it’s most efficient,” Brown said. Giants like IBM, HP, Cisco and Oracle and startups like Sentilla and Viridity Software are tracking the energy use of IT assets. At the same time, companies like ABB, Trane, Siemens, Schneider Electric and General Electric, along with startups like SynapSense, Racktivity and Modius, are tackling the monitoring and control of building systems.
For more research on green data centers check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):
- Questions for the IT Industry’s Green Intentions in 2011
- Green Data Center Design Strategies
- Will Software or Sensors Will in Data Center Efficiency
Image courtesy of Cliff Dwelling via Creative Commons license.