Six ways to make your data center highly efficient

Organizations are raising the bar for energy efficiency with free cooling, DC power, modular data centers, and better collaboration

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Practice No. 3: Generate your own power
An impressive number of organizations, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Bell Canada, are putting a dent in their energy bills by installing generating renewable energy on site. Solar panels are a popular choice and are becoming even more so with solar-panel prices steadily dropping, according to 451 Group. Solar's not the only option out there; companies like Fujitsu have turned to hydrogen as an alternative. Companies are also exploring using cow manure to generate low-cost power. Going the on-site power-generation route requires an up-front investment, but under the right circumstances, the ROI can come quickly.

Practice No. 4: Save watts with DC power
In a typical data center environment, power conversions abound along the path from the outside utility pad to the servers. With each conversion, some power is lost. The power starts at the utility pad at 16,000 VAC (volts alternating current), then converted to 440 VAC, to 220 VAC, then to 110 VAC before it reaches the UPSes feeding each server rack. Each UPS converts the incoming AC power to DC power, then back to AC. The UPSes then distribute that AC power to their respective servers -- where it's converted back to DC. As much as 50 to 70 percent of the electricity that comes into the data center is wasted throughout this long and winding conversion process. A DC-based power-distribution system eliminates these costly conversions, reducing energy bills in the process.

Organizations have been hesitant to go the DC route for a couple of reasons. Among them, some operators may not realize that hardware vendors have starting offering systems to support a DC-based environment. There are also cost concerns, as a high-voltage power system requires substantial installation and investment. However, saving 50 percent or more on power over many years represents a big return, not to mention the space you can reclaim with less power-converting equipment on the data center floor.

Practice No. 5: Use your IT equipment more efficiently
Virtualization has helped countless companies significantly consolidate hardware and reduce server count. On top of that, organizations are deploying DCIM (data center infrastructure management) software, according to 451 Group. These tools graphically display a complete inventory of a data center's physical and logical assets, showing rack and data center floor location and rack-heat load. Using the software, a facility manager can model any move, add, or change by creating sophisticated what-if scenarios before implementing changes that can dramatically impact performance.

On the hardware side, organizations like Google and Facebook use their own specially designed servers in their data centers rather than going with off-the-shelf offerings. They both have embraced techniques like eliminating superfluous components, and Facebook has gone so far as to place dual processors side by side on a motherboard, rather than one behind the other, because it improves airflow. In the storage world, solid-state systems -- which don't have watt-draining spinning disks -- have the potential to reduce energy waste, according to 451 Group: "The emergence of solid-state storage devices may be a game changer, although market adoption is still nascent."

Practice No. 6: Go the modular route
Designing and building a data center has many pitfalls: There's time spent -- and wasted -- as representatives from departments throughout the organization gather around the table and butt heads over the design of the new facility. There's also the wasteful practice of building more data center than you actually need, be it in terms of size, density, or redundancy. You're stuck paying the bills to build and power that extra infrastructure without getting any return (until the time comes that you need it).

Data center operators are increasingly embracing a modular approach to building and expanding their facilities. This model entails deploying portable pods, or modules, comprising standardized components, including IT hardware, power, and cooling equipment. Organizations can add new modules as needed as their computing needs increase, thanks to their portable, cookie-cutter design. These modules also bring an element of flexibility in that they can put set up wherever there's free space and access to power, such as a rooftop.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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