Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Datacenter Community Expands Energy-Awareness 

There's a change afoot in the normally conservative datacenter industry. A laser focus on reliability/uptime has expanded to include energy-efficiency. 

There's a change afoot in the normally conservative datacenter industry. A laser focus on reliability/uptime has expanded to include energy-efficiency.

A new white paper from Server Technology highlights current trends and challenges facing the datacenter industry. The analysis and insight can be traced back to discussions with datacenter IT and facilities managers as well as analysts at the 451 Research/Uptime Institute.

The paper's authors observe that while many topics remain the same from one year to the next, there is a noticeable shift toward initiatives that prioritize energy efficiency. However, this is still a risk-averse industry that demands a compelling business case before it will sign off on new technologies.

"While power costs are rising, and power availability in many markets is decreasing, energy-efficiency projects must have a defined and reasonable ROI," the authors note. "Organizations are not moving toward being green just for the sake of being green. For example, without a clear financial direction, a reasonably short ROI (18-months or less) almost guarantees these energy projects will not be undertaken."

Organizations are looking to be more efficient and reduce capital and operating costs, but there are several challenges that need to be examined. The paper lays out these concerns with possible solutions.

One proven way to save on energy is raising the air inlet temperature. The ASHRAE standard keeps increasing the recommended and allowable temperature ranges. However, maintaining equipment at higher temperatures necessitates careful monitoring. There are a range of monitoring tools available for this purpose. Scheduling software can also help reduce power consumption via a number of mechanisms, including shutting down devices at planned intervals.

The report highlights the many advantages of going green as well as the risks of doing nothing. "Today it is clear that increasing efficiency while still operating green initiatives within ROI is important for many reasons: saving costs (including power costs), meeting business requirements, reducing the carbon footprint, and being known as an environmentally-responsible corporation," write the authors.

Many organizations have created C-level positions focused on sustainability and energy-efficiency. Apple and EMC are high-profile examples.

Companies like Facebook and eBay have taken the lead in using renewable energy to power their facilities. They've also adopted sophisticated energy management tools. Having the right reporting tools is crucial to getting an accurate energy picture.

"Reports, trending, and predictive trending – all of which are based on accurate power and environmental information – are key to increased efficiency," states the report.

Energy management and reporting software helps address another major challenge which is lost capacity or "zombie servers." Of all the energy-challenges, this is perhaps the most obviously wasteful with servers consuming energy but not producing any work.

Server utilization rates are notoriously low. While organizations do not like to publicize these numbers, analyst estimate run between 10-15 percent. Add to this the fact that most servers will consume 40% to 60% full power usage while at idle. This unused capacity explains the popularity of sever virtualization and consolidation projects, which put the extra capacity to work. A number of utilities even provide financial incentives for successful virtualization projects.

Measuring and monitoring power usage is one of the most beneficial tactics available to datacenter managers. Lord Kelvin's famous quotation has never rung more true: "If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it."

As datacenters evolve to accommodate space, power and cooling challenges, they'll also be looking to achieve some degree of future proofing too. The opportunities are there for those who can read the tea leaves and turn insight into action.

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