HP Unveils Automated Cooling System For Data Centers

The new energy management system, which is slated to start shipping mid-2007, is expected to reduce energy consumption by 40% in a small data center (2 megawatts and 10,000 square feet), and by 20% in a very large data center (10 megawatts and 35,000+ square feet), according to Steve Cumings, director of HP's storage networks and infrastructure group.

"Basically, the folks at HP have long gotten a bad rap, including from me, for having difficulty bringing HP lab innovations to market," said Jonathan Eunice, principal IT adviser at Illuminata, an analyst firm. "This is a pretty stellar exception to that. They have been working on room-level and data center-level thermal management for some years. They seem to have a pretty unique capability here."

Dynamic Smart Cooling is a two-pronged system. The first part of the system is a grid of sensors that covers a data center. The sensors, which could number in the hundreds or thousands depending on the size of the data center, basically run down the front of every other rack, with multiple sensors on each rack, Cummings said. The sensors gauge the temperature in each of those spots and analyze where the data center is too hot and where it is too cold.

The second part of the system is an intelligent control node, which is an HP server that takes the information from the sensors and decides what changes need to be made in the air conditioning units to level off the hot and cold spots. Then it automatically makes those changes itself.

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"This way, you're only delivering cooling where you need it," Cumings said. "A customer runs all cooling units at maximum capacity or close to it because they're blanketing the room with cold air. You have hot spots and cold spots. You can turn the AC up and down but now you have a way to understand what effect that has."

According to Cumings, over the past 10 years, the amount of power being pumped into a data center is up five-fold, and power constitutes about 40% of a data center's operational spending. "The interesting thing to me is that you'd think of that 40%, the majority would go to powering the equipment. But we found that only about one-third of the power going in runs the servers and storage; 60% to 70% of power going in runs the cooling for the IT equipment."

What HP is doing is "pretty far ahead" of the competitors, Eunice said. "Other people can do thermal analysis," he said. "IBM has such a service. But no one else has developed and optimized an industrial control system for the data center. A lot of people can do the mapping of what's hot and what's not and suggest where servers can be moved and do a reasonable job of analyzing the data center. The trick HP has pulled off is they've analyzed the data center but they take it the next step and build an active control system around that analysis."

Michelle Bailey, a research VP at IDC, an analyst firm, called HP's Dynamic Smart Cooling system a "holistic approach" to the dealing with the data center's cooling and power problem.

"We're seeing an evolution of the whole market," she said. "HP is building automation into the data center. They're providing more information about where the hot spots occur and they're subsequently trying to automate that and tie it into the air conditioners." HP is the first to use automation this way, she said.

HP isn't going to charge a flat price for the system, but instead will charge based on a percentage of the power cost savings that the user experiences, Cumings said. He said he's not yet sure what that percentage will be.