Ganging Up on Power and Cooling

Speakers at the Digital Power Forum say that it will take the combined efforts of IT, data center managers and facilitites departments to address the growing problems.

RICHARDSON, Texas—Dealing with the twin issues of power and cooling in the data center is going to take a combination of efforts from both the technology industry and the vendors that build and power those facilities.

The Digital Power Forum here Sept. 18-20 saw the continued merging of the disparate groups, with speakers ranging from IT giants like Advanced Micro Devices and Sun Microsystems to data center designers such as EYP Mission Critical Facilities to power supplies and cooling companies, including American Power Conversion and Emerson Networks Liebert unit.

However, the message from all three groups was the same: The rapid increase in density in data centers—fueled in large part by such technologies as blade servers—is a trend that will only accelerate, putting more pressure on these disparate parties to find solutions to the issues that have become key concerns of corporations.

"What we see here is the potential for a perfect storm," said Larry Vetal, senior strategist of worldwide commercial marketing for AMDs Microprocessor Solutions Segment.

Rack density is increasing, Vetal said, but because of the resulting heat load, rack space is going unused—as much as 18 percent in the average data center, according to an AMD survey. In addition, corporations continue to view building more data centers as an answer to heat issues, which can be an expensive proposition. In the 1990s, facilities were planned for a power draw of 40 watts per square foot, he said. By 2010, that number could be as high as 500 watts per square foot.

That could drive the cost to build an average 50,000-square-foot data center from $20 million to $250 million, he said. Data center managers, IT and facilities departments need to find a way to take advantage of the benefits of more dense technologies—of being able to do more work in the same amount of space—without being hobbled by power and cooling concerns, Vetal and others said.

Moves are being made in all areas to address the problem. On the IT side, chip makers like AMD, Intel and Sun Microsystems are growing the number of cores on a single piece of silicon, while working to keep the power consumption down. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD, like Intel, offers dual-core chips now; Vetal said that when AMD releases its quad-core processors next year, it will fit into the same power envelope—about 95 watts—as the current dual-core models. Other chip technologies include such features as on-board memory controllers and the ability to throttle down a core based on application demand.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about what AMDs Bruce Shaw said at the Data Center World conference about the rising costs of power and cooling.

IT vendors also are coming together to address the issues, most notably with the Green Grid Alliance, which was formed this spring to find ways to push the use of energy-efficient technologies. Vetal said the group—which includes AMD, Sun, Dell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and VMware, among others—is formalizing its organizational structure, and will have announcements to make this fall.

Virtualization—the ability to run multiple applications and operating systems on a single server—and software-based management tools also are growing. However, Vetal said a key hurdle with the software tools is that they currently tend to be vendor-specific. Users are looking for the ability to manage the power and cooling of heterogeneous environments with a single tool.

"The biggest issue around these vendor tools is its OK if Im 100 percent an HP shop, or 100 percent a Dell shop, or 100 percent a Sun shop," he said.

In addition, memory makers need to get more involved, said Jack Pouchet, director of marquee accounts for Liebert, of Columbus, Ohio. Memory doesnt throttle down when sitting idle, he said.

"They consume as much power as when theyre doing something," Pouchet said. "The memory people still have to come to the table. … Its amazing how cheap memory is, but its killing us in the data center."

Next Page: Growing interest from government agencies.