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Crossing the Chasm for Data Center Energy

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UPDATED: In data centers, the energy used to run servers is closely proportional with the amount of energy used to cool, ventilate, back up and convert power for data centers. However, these two areas of the data center are often two different siloed departments with IT firms. But as I lay out in my weekly update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), there is a significant opportunity for companies that are looking to connect these often disparate systems.

Case in point: Power Assure, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup, which announced interoperability with Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) Blade servers (s csco) last week. Power Assure monitors servers’ real-world power use, organizing server utilization and cutting a data center’s energy spend without hurting performance, the company says. Meanwhile, Cisco’s UCS system integrates computing, storage and networking elements into one rack to cut switches and cabling and improve airflow to cut energy use.

Other startups, like Sentilla and Viridity Software, are using different models and methods to integrate with IT management platforms and servers to capture per-watt performance figures. Cutting wasted server space — computing headroom, so to speak — makes up much of the IT department’s efficiency.

Still, up to one half of a typical data center’s power use can come from non-computing loads. Most of those systems (cooling, air handling, power delivery, temperature and humidity monitoring, etc.) aren’t built to talk to one another. There’s room for integration there.

For that little problem, enter the likes of Modius, a San Francisco-based startup that integrates a host of facility-side systems in a single database and automation platform. It has crossbreed facility partnerships under way with data center power distribution company STARLINE, which adds a store of super-accurate power data to Modius’s per-server calculations. That technology could be important when some servers measure their own power use inaccurately, or not at all.

Eventually, data center operators will want to run all these things in concert, to bring together tech like pre-cooling hot-spots where a room full of servers is turned on all at once, or turning servers on in sequence to let chillers ramp up at the most efficient rate. UPDATE: Swiss power gear giant ABB invested in Power Assure through its venture capital arm in September, and Power Assure CEO Brad Wurtz said the company will demonstrate interoperability with ABB’s data center automation technology this week at the ABB Automation and Power World at September’s Data Center World show in Orlando, Fla.

That’s one interesting IT-facilities integration model to look out for. Others may be Modius, which partnered with data center IT monitoring vendor Nimsoft in September, or data center facility-side power manager SynapSense, which plans to expand into monitoring IT equipment as well.

These kinds of developments are important, because they lead the way to some kind of standardized way to tackle data center energy efficiency. While the Facebooks, Googles (s GOOG), Yahoos (s YHOO) and Ciscos of the world make headlines with their brand-new hyper-efficient data center designs, most of the market has to go a step at a time. And that means integrating what companies’ IT divisions and their facilities divisions are spending money on. Technologies that work in a silo will always benefit from making contact with the other side.

Image courtesy of IBMPhoto24 via Creative Commons license.