The green house effect

The data centre is now the centre of the world. It needs to be lean, green and mean. And fabulous, efficient and wonderful...

Read time 5min 00sec

The data centre has become the single, solitary most important part of your IT infrastructure, if certain bodies are to be believed. It requires a ton of investment. You have to move to cloud. You have to be green. You have to deliver twice the oomph at half the cost. You also have to learn to walk on water, or any other suitable miracle of your choosing.

Jokes aside, CIOs and IT managers are under increasing pressure to do more with less. Speculation about the end of the recession notwithstanding, budgets are not going to explode any time soon and everyone is still in cost-cutting mode.

Added to that is social and political pressure to get corporate houses in order, and to go green in a big way. Most companies cannot afford to go green for the sake of it, however. That virtualisation, centralisation and consolidation offer green benefits is merely the cherry on top of what have been the main strategies and technologies employed to reduce costs and gain efficiencies over the past several years.

Says VMware Africa regional manager Chris Norton: “Virtualisation and data deduplication are two technologies that are on the minds of all CIOs. The next-generation of data centres are likely to be virtualised to a large extent. While physical to virtual (P2V) server consolidation also provides an economical solution, data protection across these virtual environments becomes a challenge.”

Check box

Rachel Cook, HP Data Centre Services lead for HP South Africa Technology Services, has a few tips companies should bear in mind when designing data centres.
* Consider the density of equipment and thus the energy needed per square metre.
* Ensure the floor is at the appropriate height.
* Look at installing low energy lighting with sensors that switch off when no one is in the data centre
* Keep the temperature as high as possible; you should be able to go into the centre in short-sleeves and not feel cold.
* Maintain a light site environment - there shouldn't be people in the data centre, it introduces risk.
* Equipment not needing to be kept cooled should not be in the data centre.
* Standardise on technology as it makes it easier and cheaper to manage and maintain.
* It makes sense to have an environmental management system that can monitor the thermal dynamics and react appropriately - for example, servers that are busy need more cooling than servers that aren't, and the system should be able to react accordingly.

“In the world of Internet-scale computing, businesses are looking for massive computing power but need to find it without drawing too heavily on limited power supplies,” says IBM GTS executive Bill Lafontaine. “The challenge is, therefore, to manage power and cooling costs while providing the computing resources to keep business running smoothly. Massive scale-out data centres, which feature thousands or tens of thousands of servers, rely on Internet-style computing to feed the explosive growth in Web 2.0, risk analysis, high-performance computing, batch processing and other applications. However, energy costs are rising and South African businesses in particular are facing the reality that drawing more power into the data centre is simply no longer possible given supply constraints.”

SCS director Gareth Botha agrees: “The data centre of the future will hold IT managers accountable for energy efficiency. Generally, data centres are not green. Data centre and IT managers generally do not know the percentage their department contributes to the overall electricity bill, but this will change. With Eskom prices expected to rocket this year, companies need to start monitoring their power consumption.

“One of the problems faced regarding power consumption is that servers are growing in capacity and are slowly starting to draw the same amount of power as the mainframes they replaced. As a result, some data centre managers are finding that they cannot get enough power distributed to those server racks. Others are finding that they cannot get more power to the building as they've exceeded Eskom's ability to deliver additional capacity.

“Green data centres don't just save energy, they also reduce the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades to deal with increased power and cooling demands. Just taking full advantage of power management features and turning off unused servers can cut data centre energy requirements by about 20%,” he states.

Cost control

Says Norton: “We're seeing people struggling to do more with less. Companies are looking at their data centres and realising they have to look at alternative technologies to drive that. A lot of these are emerging technologies, but a lot have been around for a while but are new to the customer, so there's been an education process over the last three years. The larger organisations that run data centres have had considerable success converting to virtual platforms, and are now running less infrastructure but delivering to the same SLAs.”

Businesses are looking for massive computing power.

Bill Lafontaine, GTS executive, IBM

Concepts like free air cooling, which addresses both cost and green considerations, are gaining traction in countries where the outside air is cold enough to be used in data centres as is. Johannesburg, says Botha, is cold enough 30% of the year for local organisations to be able to use outside air to cool their centres.

Other concepts being implemented in a bid to improve efficiencies in older centres include cold and hot aisles, which improves cooling efficiency and thus costs by keeping cool air where it needs to be (by the servers' air intake) and hot air where it needs to be (being exhausted out).

Future imperfect

While there are any number of well-known strategies and technologies that companies can use to eke another few years of life out of their old data centres, ultimately new ones will be needed, particularly as the cost of new centres becomes less than the cost of maintaining old, energy-inefficient ones.

Companies are looking at their data centres and realising they have to look at alternative technologies.

Chris Norton, Africa regional manager, VMware

“The data centre of the future will provide welcome relief to this problem through being designed to use less space, consume less power and gain computing density, with the knock-on effect of a reduction in use of air-conditioning and even the option to run a data centre at room temperature - something unheard of in the data centre of years gone by. South Africans are also ushering in a new era where static data will be transformed into dynamic information that is accessible by individuals wherever they go in a cloud computing environment. Infrastructures, including the data centre, will need to adapt to meet this demand,” notes Lafontaine.

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