Frequent hardware upgrades help optimise datacentre cooling and efficiency

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Frequent hardware upgrades help optimise datacentre cooling and efficiency

Archana Venkatraman

UK’s public sector organisations and enterprises must learn from companies such as Google and Facebook and refresh their datacentre hardware more often to reduce power consumption and make IT more efficient, said Professor Ian Bitterlin, a consulting engineer and a datacentre energy expert at the Datacentre World 2013 event.

Datacentre hardware must be refreshed at least every three years to ensure that server utilisation is optimised and that workloads do not fail, the professor from Leeds University said.

“If your datacentre hardware’s age is under three years, the problems such as corrosion and condensation will not affect servers’ productivity and so they won’t consume more power,” he said.

“Facebook refreshes its server hardware every nine months and Google refreshes its hardware every thirty months,” Bitterlin said.

But UK government organisations, on average, update their hardware once every eight or ten years and enterprises refresh theirs about every five years, he said.

“If you refresh your hardware frequently risks of air contamination affecting your datacentre will be minimal,” he said.

Although servers today last longer, then can quickly become too old to perform which means datacentre managers will inevitably need to purchase new hardware.

What UK organisations do not understand is that in three years they spend as much on cooling under-utilised and poorly performing servers as they would on buying new hardware equipment, Bitterlin said.

Datacentre professionals should build a business case and perform a cost analysis ahead of setting up their datacentre budget. They must consider total cost of ownership rather than just capital expenses or operating expenses of running a datacentre and look for return on investment in power savings.  

“Every time you change servers, you are doubling capacity and halving energy consumption,” he said. Facebook’s strategy is to refresh its hardware so aggressively that it doubles its capacity and avoids building new datacentres.

“But it becomes difficult for local council authorities to justify capital expenditure on hardware ever so often.”

While the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon do not set practical examples for regular datacentre managers, traditional enterprises must at least refresh datacentre more often than they are doing now, he said.

Three-year hardware refresh is one way of cutting datacentre cooling costs at a time when datacentre growth is predicted at 20% per year for the next few years. UK datacentres consume 1GW of power every year, according to Bitterlin.

UK’s average annual temperature is about 9°C and the peak temperature is 33°C, so businesses need not depend on mechanical cooling devices such as the compressors all the time.  

Following simple measures such as updating equipment regularly and by ensuring higher degree of server utility, datacentres’ power consumption can be optimised, Bitterlin said.

“Any datacentre manager keeping their hardware for more than three years is crazy,” he said.

In 2013, server equipment in IT facilities are estimated to consume 35% of their peak power even when they are idle or doing very little IT processing whereas microprocessor utilisation across the globe is under 10%.

“This is not correct. We must get the average utilisation rate high and idle power consumption rate down,” he said.

The future has to change because today, transferring 2TB (terabyte) of data by a jumbo airplane is cheaper and more energy-efficient than transferring it via the network over a 27-hour timeframe running servers at high capacity, he said.

Perhaps the answer lies in photonic network in the future, Bitterlin said. A photonic (or optical) network is a communications network in which information is transmitted entirely in the form of optical or infrared transmission (IR) signals. 

But for now, regularly recycling datacentre hardware should help companies boost server performance and bring cooling costs down.


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