Powering Up And Cooling Down The Data Center

Solution providers are coming to the rescue, but with a focus on point solutions rather than complete data center rebuilds. The solutions are likely to include new low-powered servers and storage devices, many of which include virtualization technology to help cut the number of physical devices. These devices will be connected to energy-efficient power supplies and rack-centered cooling technologies.

For data centers, problems with power and cooling are either huge and immediate or are looming, said Mark Bramfitt, targeted market supervisor in charge of high-tech areas at Pacific Gas and Electric, based in San Francisco.

Whether it's IT companies on the West Coast or financial companies on the East Coast, data center power usage is growing 20 percent to 50 percent a year, Bramfitt said. "They have incredible growth rates and are finding it more and more difficult to accommodate it both with existing and new data centers," he said.

Enterprise customers, as well as midsize businesses with 10 to 15 servers, realize they have a problem, said Joe Kadlec, vice president and senior partner at Consiliant Technologies, a solution provider in Irvine, Calif. "They keep putting Band-Aids on," he said.

Sponsored post

Pointing out legacy data center issues can be a good starting point in the sales conversation, Kadlec said. For instance, these customers may have racks with Plexiglas doors that look pretty but interfere with air circulation. Or they may have problems with new, high-density computing products.

"A couple weeks ago, we were in a data center where the customer was blowing hot air into racks across the walkway between the racks," Kadlec said. "A lot of people are installing blade servers, and they're hot. A lot of time there's not enough cooling, and a lot of time not enough power. This company had home fans trying to cool them."

Poor planning is often at fault, Kadlec said. "Some customers use portable air conditioners, like those used at football games," he said. "It's expensive, and you get condensation."

There are two extremes of cooling issues for the data center, said Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. The first is what Gillett calls the classic situation in which someone at the data center brags that his gear runs cooler than someone else's. The second is the need to build or rebuild an entire data center.

Solution providers, he said, can work in between those two. "They need to look at the power consumption and the heat load of specific gear. They need to say to their customer, 'I found what you need, and here's how it can cut your power and cooling costs.' "

For now, solution providers are seeing success by implementing several new servers and in many cases adding virtualization on top of them. Virtualizing servers is one of the best ways to cut power requirements, Pacific Gas and Electric's Bramfitt said.

For many companies, virtualizing the servers in phases is better than trying to do it all at once. "I saw one customer, Autodesk, go from 240 servers down to 11 servers using VMware," he said.

Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution provider, is having a lot of success with Hewlett-Packard's BladeSystem c-Class series of low-power-consumption blade servers and is starting to see a couple of million-dollar deals with them, said Rich Baldwin, president and CEO. "We're also selling VMware [server virtualization technology] on top of it," he said. "We sell the cooling capabilities of the c-Class servers and virtualization to get 5:1 utilization out of them."

But while power and cooling issues are increasingly important when selling servers, they are not yet the primary sales point, said Pat Edwards, vice president of sales at Alliance Technology Group, a solution provider in Hanover, Md.

Alliance has a couple of data mining customers that have run out of the ability to bring in new power to their data centers, and the company is talking up the benefits of Sun Microsystems' servers based on its new lower-power- consumption microprocessors. "We have not sold a deal with Sun where the sole consideration is power," Edwards said. "But customers are taking it into consideration."

Alliance also is talking to customers that are rebuilding their data centers, and Edwards said part of those discussions revolve around server power requirements. "It's an important part of the discussion," he said. "But it depends on market and customer demand. It could become more important if the cost of electricity keeps rising."

Storage devices are another area where solution providers can help clients cut power and cooling costs, although in this case there is still much work to be done on the manufacturer side.

Benjamin Woo, vice president of sales and marketing at ASI Systems Integration, New York, said storage is not keeping up with servers in power-reduction technologies. For instance, higher-density packaging, such as putting four drives on a storage blade and building higher-capacity drives, will continue to add to heat and power problems.

While only the largest integrators get involved in designing or building a data center, many solution providers bring in outside help as a service to their customers. Key Information Systems does not deal with heat issues, "but you have to address it," said Pete Elliot, director of marketing at the Woodland Hills, Calif., IBM solution provider. "We've helped customers move their data centers, and while we don't deal with the heat, we go in with a third party to help spec the impact it has on power and heat. We know it's a critical component when customers move their data center."

Key Information Systems mainly does this as a customer service, Elliot said. "Relations with a lot of our customers are really deep," he said. "We don't worry about a dollar here or a dollar there."