- Datacentre infrastructure management
- Free air cooling
- On-site wind generation or use of renewable energy
- Low-power servers
- Modular datacentres
- Datacentre consolidation and virtualisation
- Cloud computing
Driven by rising electricity costs, green legislation and corporate social responsibility, green IT is increasingly on most IT professionals’ minds.
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Whatever the reasons, experts say that in the long run, having an energy-efficient datacentre helps the environment.
Experts rate datacentre infrastructure management (DCIM) tools as one of the coolest technologies that can help companies make their infrastructure energy-efficient and green
Until 2009, DCIM had virtually no market penetration, but today it is one of the most significant areas of green computing, according to Simon Mingay, research vice-president at Gartner. DCIM brings together standalone functions such as datacentre design, asset discovery, systems management functions, capacity planning and energy management to provide a holistic view of the datacentre, ranging from the rack or cabinet level to the cooling infrastructure and energy utilisation.
It helps encourage the efficient use of energy, optimise equipment layouts, support virtualisation and consolidation, and improve datacentre availability. DCIM tools can help datacentre managers improve capacity planning, which can reduce hardware volumes and the associated cooling costs. “We are terrible at capacity planning. Any tool that helps us pack more computing resources per kilowatt of power for greater efficiency is welcome,” says Mingay. DCIM tools can also give datacentre managers a greater insight into the power and cooling needs of the infrastructure, enabling them to plan accordingly.
“DCIM, when fully mature, offers the opportunity to balance compute capacity (power drawn) with IT load and switch hardware into ‘low activity’ or ‘standby’ modes when the load is low,” according to the DatacenterDynamics Intelligence Power report by Ian Bitterlin, a professor at the University of Leeds, and Nicola Hayes, managing director of DCD Intelligence.
Providers are not investing greatly in DCIM tools at present because so few organisations are buying them, according to Ovum principal analyst Roy Illsley. “When this changes, however, users are going to demand a lot more value from DCIM tools and they will become better,” he says.
Datacentre power use is high on the agenda for most datacentre developers. Energy costs have become the largest single element in the datacentre’s total cost of ownership (TCO ) – ranging from 20% to 60% depending on the facility’s business model – and, as energy prices (and/or taxes) rise, the share of the total cost will only become larger, says Bitterlin.
Free or natural air cooling is the practice of using outside air to cool datacentre facilities rather than running power-hungry mechanical refrigeration or air-conditioning units. As a growing number of datacentre service providers build racks and servers that can run in temperatures as high as 27°C, natural air cooling has become a viable option. There is very little reason in regions such as the UK to not depend on free air cooling for most of the year, says Mingay, but most datacentres still use mechanical cooling. Using mechanical cooling only when the outside air temperatures become too high to cool datacentres is an effective strategy to make datacentres green. But free air cooling requires more than simply keeping the datacentre’s windows open. Datacentres also require filters to catch dust particles that can harm server equipment. The filtered air pumped in from the outside must also be treated to ensure the optimum humidity levels. A high moisture level in the air can lead to metal rust, whereas a very low level of moisture can cause problems with static electricity, say experts.
The savings of using free cooling are so evident that big datacentre operators are now confident enough to build datacentres without any mechanical chiller plants, according to analysts at 451 Research. Companies such as Capgemini are using free air cooling techniques in their datacentres.
A number of large businesses, including Apple, Facebook and Google, are taking initiatives to power their datacentres using wind energy. Mingay says wind energy can help datacentre managers meet environmental requirements, while also saving the business money on electricity costs. However, while Google may grab the headlines, an onsite wind farm is irrelevant to most datacentre operators, he says. “For regular operators, onsite generation of renewable energy will be through gas turbines. They may not be as sexy as Google’s wind farms, but they are practical.”
Analyst Andrew Donoghue from 451 Research says datacentre operators are looking for more efficient alternatives to the current x86 standard server racks and blades to make their infrastructure sustainable in the long term. IT providers such as HP and Dell launched their first low-energy alternatives (for development purposes rather than commercial deployments) in 2012. Such servers borrow from the technology driving smartphone computing, which tries to balance performance with battery drain. The trend will accelerate in 2013 as systems makers begin to release full production systems, according to a report by 451 Research analysts. These low-energy alternatives, or micro servers, rely on low-power central processor units (CPUs) from Intel and the ecosystem of ARM partners.
“Given the right workloads, they can be much more efficient than larger, monolithic systems,” says Donoghue. Utilisation rates go up, capital costs go down, high levels of redundancy are achieved, and running costs are lowered, both from lower power consumption and less supporting cooling infrastructure. The impact of low-power servers on the datacentre can be significant – they can help cut direct IT electricity costs and also help reduce operating and capital costs of cooling facilities.
Large enterprises such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are adopting modular datacentres in their bid to boost their green IT efforts. Unlike the way a traditional datacentre is constructed, a modular datacentre is portable. It is designed for rapid deployment, energy-efficiency and high density. Such modular designs are becoming increasingly popular since they are a ready-made datacentre-in-a-box, which can be scaled very quickly. HP EcoPod is a modular datacentre that claims to support more than 4,000 servers with a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.05 when using free air cooling.
Virtualisation software extends the functionality of existing servers, which in turn helps reduce power consumption, according to the DCD Intelligence Power report. The report also predicts that virtualisation will play a huge part in raising the utilisation of the existing estate from under 10% to over 40%. It says supplier efforts are required in power management for IT efficiency. At low IT loads, the power management tools must fall in line with the load. Raising hardware utilisation rates this way will reduce the power demand by at least 20%.
Virtualisation and datacentre consolidation strategies help enterprises streamline IT resources and utilise the untapped processing power of high-power server and storage devices. The combination of virtualisation, low-latency and high-bandwidth network connectivity, and specialised servers, has the potential to slash datacentre capital costs and improve energy efficiency, says 451 Research’s Donoghue.
Cloud computing can help enterprises in their green IT efforts, since a computing cloud offers higher CPU utilisation. When one organisation is not experiencing a load, its spare resources are used by another one that needs it. However, 100% efficiency is a long way off. “Cloud computing, mainly public cloud, has a lot of promise for bringing a massive change in resource efficiency, but we are nowhere near there yet,” says Gartner’s Mingay.
Energy savings going forward
A wave of genuinely disruptive change is building in the datacentre industry that will help its green credentials. For instance, the University of Southampton has pioneered a technique to encase electronics in a fluid to support running circuits at higher temperatures. Another example is French company Iliad, which uses higher-efficiency coolers to reduce its CO 2 footprint. It monitors the power requirements of the load to ensure that only the necessary modules are in service. The remaining modules remain in a low-power standby mode, making large energy savings possible.