A Growing Problem

By Kevin Fogarty  |  Posted 2006-08-21 Print this article Print

A Growing Problem

The amount of electricity used by a typical data center rose 39 percent between 1999 and 2005, according to The Uptime Institutes study, which examined facilities with a combined total of more than 1 million square feet of data center space. Its not unusual for a large data center to draw a megawatt of electricity or more per month—enough to power 1,000 houses for a month.

Estimates of annual power costs for all U.S. data centers—which Koomey says are often unreliable because they tend to focus only on the power used by IT gear, not the air conditioning and other systems that support it—range as high as $3.3 billion.

A survey published by AFCOM, a society of data center managers, said 90 percent of AFCOM members are concerned that electricity costs or restrictions in electricity supply could slow or stop the construction of new data centers and impede the operation of existing centers.

The rise in electricity demand is partly due to the increasing power of the processors themselves—but only partly—according to Vernon Turner, an analyst at market researcher IDC, of Framingham, Mass.

The greatest part of the rise in power consumption in data centers is a years-long trend toward centralization of corporate computing, which, itself, was driven by a need to reduce the cost of supporting servers scattered across dozens or hundreds of locations, Turner said.

The cost of supporting six small e-mail servers spread across three states, for example, is a lot higher than that of supporting one or two big servers tucked into a rack the e-mail administrator can touch by scooting over on a chair, rather than traveling to a different building or state to fix a local problem.

"Despite IT budgets being flat, were still seeing strong double-digit deployment of new servers and storage devices into the data center," Turner said. "Buying a bigger server is OK, but trying to buy a server thats stacked in the same chassis has pushed us into unnatural acts in the data center. Youre trying to force things together that dont necessarily play well because they have different requirements for power and cooling."

"Enterprise data centers, the Fortune 100, have been aware of this for a long time, but the medium-sized guys have never had to think about it," Turner said.

"Now the heat is really affecting the performance of neighboring devices."

European companies also have been more aware of data centers as power sinks, partly because of higher costs but also because of a more fervent and effective environmental movement, APCs Rasmussen said.

Many U.S. companies are aware of environmental issues, as are technology companies, which agreed to design more power-efficient PCs, laptops and other devices under the Environmental Protection Agencys Energy Star program.

High-density, high-power units such as those turning data centers into saunas, however, havent been covered until now under the Energy Star program.

But the EPA has been working since January on a version of the program designed for servers.

The most significant part of the server-energy rating will be a consistent, objective measure of how much energy a piece of equipment actually uses, Koomey said.

Right now, manufacturers measure power consumption in so many subtly different ways that its not easy for customers to compare one with another, Koomey said.

The EPA isnt extending the Energy Star labeling effort to servers, Koomey said. Its using its contacts and history with the Energy Star program to bring together vendors and technology experts to establish a new energy-usage measurement thats consistent for many types of servers.

"If you cant measure [a servers energy use], you cant manage it," Koomey said. "Its kind of appalling that people who are buying thousands of servers cant measure it."

Power Problems

Common causes of data center energy leaks:

* Ducts and coils that were dirty or blocked

* Thermostats and humidity meters installed where they couldnt monitor effectively

* Sensors that dont work or that deliver erroneous data

* Supply and return pipes that are reversed

* Valves that are partially closed, unintentionally

* Solenoid-operated valves that fail due to high system pressure

* Pumping systems that cant deliver the volume of cooling necessary

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.


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