Virtualization gave data center managers some breathing room in their battle against rising energy use, but more changes are needed to keep pace with the demands of IT departments, speakers at an industry conference said Friday.
Those changes include tighter integration between IT equipment and building management systems -- so that temperature readings from servers can be used to directly control cooling systems, for example -- and better communication between IT staff and the facilities teams that run the data center.
Many data centers are approaching the limits of their power and cooling capacity, and data center managers are looking for creative ways to do more with the infrastructure they have. Energy costs have also been rising and carbon legislation looms, so corporate executives are putting pressure on their data centers to get in shape.
Virtualization was seen as one solution to the energy crisis, because it can improve server utilization and reduce the number of systems in use. It has helped a little, but it hasn't stemmed the relentless increase in demand for more computers and more energy, according to speakers at the Datacenter Dynamics conference in San Francisco.
"For our clients, virtualization was perceived as a solution to all the ills, but what we've seen over the past few years is not a slowdown in growth. If anything, we see companies asking how they can get more kilowatts -- today," said Gary Brennen, co-CEO of data center construction company Syska Hennessy.
"The appetite for new apps is outpacing any technology solutions that are coming to bare," he said.
Steven Press, executive director for data center facilities at health insurance giant Kaiser Permanente, agreed that virtualization is no panacea. "It's one of many tools we have to curtail growth and energy consumption, but I don't see it as the be-all and end-all."
"I'd put more of a stake into what we're going to see in future server designs, in more efficient computers that allow us to virtualize more with less energy consumption," he said.
In some scenarios, virtualization can actually increase demand for power and cooling, the panelists said. Technologies like VMware's vMotion, for example, allow companies to move a running workload from one pool of servers to another, creating an on-demand computing environment.
"But there's an issue we're all ignoring: If you move a big block of compute from one place to another, what follows it? The electrical and thermal load," said Rob Aldrich, principal solutions architect at Cisco Systems.
The power and cooling have to be in place at the location where the workload was moved from as well as at the destination, he said. Most data centers can't adjust that power and cooling supply -- the so-called environmentals -- in synch with the workloads as they move back and forth, creating inefficiencies.
"We've all been talking about computing-on-demand, but we haven't talked about environmentals-on-demand," Press said. "We have to get more granular on our ability to control power distribution and [cooling] at the cabinet level if we're going to be able to model that computing-on-demand pattern."
The key to that, the panelists said, is connecting building management systems to the IT network, so that power and cooling systems can be turned up and down in real time to match the requirements of the IT equipment.