The Energy-Efficient Data Center

When it comes to cutting customers' utility costs, it's solution providers that have the power

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Google is proud of its energy efficiency.

According to the search and SaaS giant, its servers and data center support infrastructure consume on average about the same amount of energy as the servers of a typical data center alone. What's more, nearly half of the energy used by the typical data center is spent on systems that provide the power and cooling to servers, storage and related equipment, while the cost of Google's data center support equipment is less than 20 percent of its overall energy spend.

Like any cloud-based service provider, energy is among Google's greatest expenses. So it's understandable that the company has always been energy-conscious. But recently it began sharing its data center best practices for lowering utility bills, and the company estimates that if all data centers were as efficient as Google's, the electricity savings in the U.S. alone would be enough to power "every household within the city limits of Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C."

How does Google do it? Google discovered that data center infrastructure -- the power distribution units, battery backups and other data center gear -- wastes as much as 20 percent of the power it is in charge of providing. Further, as much as 70 percent of data center power is spent on keeping things cool. So these were the first areas targeted when Google developed its energy-efficiency plans. In short, it uses evaporative cooling towers to carry away heat at a fraction of the cost of chillers.

Moreover, Google's custom-built servers were designed from the ground up to conserve energy. This is primarily accomplished in three ways: by using more efficient AC/DC power converters and regulators than those in systems costing less; by running fans only as much as necessary to keep temperatures below certain thresholds; and by eliminating graphics chips and other components not necessary for Google applications.

With these changes, Google claims to have saved 500 kWh per server, or about $30 per box, per year when combined with savings related to water usage and carbon emission. Similar savings might be possible for many of your customers, particularly those maintaining large data centers. For the reseller, who is already looked upon as a trusted adviser, the energy audit is not only within your means and ability today, it's also a sure-fire way to lower your customers' utility bills.

So, say a call comes in to your IT department from a customer whose data center is running hot. Your IT manager says that the call is in sync with an e-mail received a few minutes before indicating that temperatures are above critical thresholds. Option 1: Send someone from your staff to the customer's site to take a look. Option 2: Point a browser to the data center's power distribution units to see if anything is out of the ordinary, cycling power as necessary.

Option 2 is only available if you're using one of today's managed power distribution units (PDUs) from companies such as APC by Schneider Electric or Raritan. The CRN Test Center looked at offerings from both companies, and we present a review of the Raritan Dominion PX PDU as well as APC by Schneider Electric's Infrastruxure management software, both of which optimize energy usage through efficient management and reduce consumption by reducing wasted field trips. We'll also suggest some of the power-saving capabilities of Windows 7 that should be built into your standard deployment policies. Finally, we take a look at a new keyboard, video, mouse (KVM) extender from Icron Technologies.

NEXT: Raritan Dominion PX

Raritan Dominion PX

The aptly named Dominion line of PDUs from Raritan gives IT managers and MSPs authority over outlets in the data center. Absolute powers include the ability to turn on or off, cycle power or set thresholds for usage -- both high and low -- and to be notified by e-mail or SNMP event when reached or crossed.

The Dominion PX software also permits outlets and their users to be grouped for easy identification and policy setting and to aid in capacity planning. One or more PDUs can be controlled using a single IP address. A temperature and humidity sensor is included and can set off SNMP TRAPs, SETs and GETs to alert administrators of conditions that if corrected could avert actual power outages. For testing, Raritan sent CRN Test Center reviewers an eight-outlet DPXR8-15, which lists for $649. The sturdy unit set up in minutes and, backed by Raritan's solid channel program, is strongly recommended as a time- and energy-saver.

NEXT: APC By Schneider Electric Infrastruxure

APC By Schneider Electric Infrastruxure

That's not a typo, Infrastruxure Central is the name of APC by Schneider Electric's power management software, and is a Test Center-recommended product that your energy-conscious customers may want to consider. Unlike Raritan's browser-based Dominion PX software, Infrastruxure is desktop software that presents a graphic representation of a blank data center, ready to populate with the customer's server, storage, power and cooling assets.

This centralized management tool simplifies planning of power distribution, hot- and cold-aisle isolation, monitors and reports power consumption and can send alerts when levels reach critical thresholds. Setting up a new server, electrical or storage room or infrastructure space is simply a matter of selecting "New ..." from the File menu, choosing the room type and shape, whether or not is has a raised floor, its carrying capacity and the size of its tiles. While in the Planning module, drag components from the predefined lists in the left-side pane to the right-side floor plan layout. Once racks, power and cooling units are in place, computing and storage equipment can be added to those racks. The software keeps track of power usage and capacities, and warns you if you've overloaded anything.

Once the data center is set up, the Operations module presents a multipaned window and point-and-click interface that enables quick visualization of components for moves, adds and changes to rack equipment and power distribution units. Right-clicking on individual components in a "server room" displays data about its power connection and consumption along with some general information and specifications about its location and configuration. Fields can be populated with any information the customer chooses.

From the aerial view, double-clicking a rack, let's say, brings up an image of the front of that rack, complete with all installed components and free rack space. A reporting module also tracks this data, and can tell you how many "U positions" are available on all the racks in a specific data center, for example. Rack images are easily modified using drag-and-drop from a list of available components in the left-hand pane.

The panes at left display lists of installed racks in a device tree with their installed components, which can be drilled into for further details and dragged onto other racks or into other rooms. Another pane displays network information and power dependencies. Other modules provide services for planning the data center and analytics for inventory and power consumption reporting.

Here's the best part for the energy-conscious customer: A Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) report (accessed through the Operations component) displays information about current and past power usage, providing administrators with an at-a-glance view of the amount of power being used by computing assets, infrastructure assets and the organization as a whole.

This dashboard, along with much other critical Infrastruxure data, can be accessed through a browser from any machine with connectivity to the LAN that manages the assets. Energy usage information -- even of subsystems such as UPSes, PDUs and cooling equipment -- is displayed, giving not only a complete picture of usage history, but also projections into the future and suggestions on ways to save.

Other Infrastruxure capabilities include alarms and the consequences to IT that would result from component failure; automatic calculations for power, cooling and network port availability and capacities; detailed inventory reporting; work order tracking and management; complete audit trail reporting, including moves, adds and changes date, time and assignee.

Not tested was Infrastruxure Mobile, an optional remote solution built around the Motorola MC70 Windows Mobile handheld computer with integrated bar-code reader. The device simplifies data center inventory and work order processing, and can help keep physical data in sync with its digital counterpart.

Available in Basic, Standard and Enterprise editions, Infrastruxure Central is sold as a 1U or 2U appliance starting at around $3,500 list for management of 20 racks, 525 devices and 1,000 IT assets.

NEXT: Windows 7 Power Policies

Windows 7 Power Policies

Windows 7 provides more user control over component power than any prior version. And beginning with Windows Vista, Microsoft permits solution providers to modify and extend these settings using Windows Group Policy. Resellers would be wise to recommend modifications to many of these settings in desktop energy audits and Windows 7 installations and can implement them easily using centralized deployment tools.

Among the most power-hungry components is the hard drive. Fortunately, Windows by default spins it down after 20 minutes of inactivity, so there's not much need to modify that policy. The next thing to consider is disabling power to any components that are not present in a system, such as wireless Ethernet adapters and PCI Express cards. These peripherals are both set to operate at maximum performance by default, unlike the USB bus, for which selective suspend is enabled at the factory.

Then there are minimum and maximum processor states. By default, these are set to 5 percent and 100 percent, respectively, with passive cooling. If the maximum was set to, say, 50 percent, the processor would conserve power by never performing at more than 50 percent of its full power. Except for special situations, we're not convinced that these settings are helpful since a processor throttled back by half might take twice as long to do its work. Best to leave this one alone.

Other areas ripe for the power picking are display (which by default never turns off), sleep (also never) and desktop background settings (slideshow enabled). Company policies will vary for system sleep and wake preferences, but we believe that blacking the monitor after five or 10 minutes should be a no-brainer.

NEXT: Icron KVM Extender

Icron KVM Extender

Another way to save energy is by not having to physically visit a server, kiosk, digital sign, factory machine or medical device every time keyboard or mouse input is needed. KVM extenders are handy when remote desktop sharing is not an option. But such devices often put limitations on video resolution.

Icron Technologies is new on the scene with Extreme Link 3500, a high-definition KVM that supports DVI video up to 1,680 x 1,050 x 24-bit resolution, any USB 2.0 or 1.1 device and stereo audio, all over Cat 5 cable of up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) in length.

Seeking to prove the company's remarkable claim that the Extreme Link 3500 requires no drivers, CRN Test Center reviewers plugged in all the connections without laying eyes on the included setup guide. Sure enough, the Extreme Link began working immediately, extending the host computer's DVI video, USB mouse and keyboard and audio to the remote devices. So testers began plugging in USB devices to see if any would fail. None did, including a generic USB hub, camera and a printer. All worked flawlessly, although we did have to physically visit the host PC to install printer drivers. Because no drivers are necessary, the Extreme Link works with any operating system.

The hardware that Icron sent the Test Center was preproduction, and even still, the Extreme Link 3500 performed extremely well. Testers observed no latency of mouse movement, keyboard typing or video playback. Audio sounded slightly compressed, but certainly adequate. Available in aluminum and black, the all-metal enclosures feel sturdy to the touch, and the ports and LEDs (for status, link, video and USB activity) are handsomely laid out. The sender unit draws 5 volts and 5 watts. The receiver draws 24 volts and 19 watts.

The Extreme Link 3500 kit includes one sender and one receiver with appropriate power supplies and power cords, one DVI video cable, one USB device cable (for host PC) and a manual. An optional 1U rack-mount kit can accommodate two devices. Icron also makes Extreme Link and the rest of its extensive line of KVM and USB extenders available for private labeling. Although the Extreme Link 3500 was announced in June, pricing has yet to be disclosed.

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