Cal State East Bay turns to green tech to fend off power crisis

2009 Green 15: Using virtualization and smarter practices helps university save 95 percent on energy costs

California State University East Bay (CSUEB) faced a serious datacenter problem: It needed an infrastructure overhaul, yet local utility company PG&E couldn't provide enough electricity to meet the institution's growing computational and storage needs.

"Our datacenter was hurtling toward an all-out power crisis," says Rich Avila, director of server operations and system support at CSUEB. "The total amount of power being used in our datacenter was 67 kVA, and the maximum power from the current plant was 75 kVA. We would be out of power in less than six months. A new datacenter was planned but would not be available for two years."

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Compounding the problem was that the university had enacted a new initiative, reaffirming its commitment to being green. "This was something we took very seriously as we looked for a solution to our energy problems," Avila says.

A survey of the datacenter revealed one of the roots of the problem: underutilization of existing resources. "[We] did a survey and determined that our server utilization rates were down around 6 percent, and our storage utilization was not much better at 10 to 15 percent. We had been purchasing and deploying servers and storage on an ad-hoc basis, with most of the storage attached directly to servers or to one of two small SANs."

Because of this decentralized configuration, spare capacity purchased for one project was going to waste because it wasn't being used anywhere else. As is common in many datacenters, CSUEB was paying to house, power, cool, and manage hardware that was doing little to no work.

[ Datacenter waste is abundant, and it can be costly. Learn what you can do to get rid of waste by reading "25 facts you should know about green IT." ]

The school found its solution in server and storage virtualization. CSUEB installed three 8-way Sun X4600 servers to comprise the EMC VMware infrastructure, allowing for hosting of up to 100 virtual servers. For storage consolidation, CSUEB replaced its proliferation of storage equipment with a single 43TB 3Par InServ Storage Server. One of the selling points of the InServ, Avila says, is that you can add capacity as needed, meaning you don't have excess spinning disks using up energy while providing no value.

At the close of the project, 17 NAS servers had been migrated to the combined 3Par InServ and VMware system, and all of the aging SAN equipment was migrated to the InServer Server as well. Moreover, CSUEB was able to add 21 new application servers as virtual machines that would otherwise have required additional physical server hardware. Today, CSUEB hosts a total of 75 virtual servers on the three-node VMware infrastructure. And to prevent future server sprawl, the school requires that all new servers be provisioned as virtual guests unless otherwise justified.

[ Learn all about virtualization with David Marshall's Virtualization Report blog. ]

On top of the virtualization efforts, CSUEB implemented hot and cold aisles, which helps to reduce hot spots and saves energy on cooling. Moreover, IT personnel moved to working spaces outside the datacenter, meaning the lights can be kept off in the facility most of the time. "They only come in to change tapes or respond to server issues now," said Avila.

The virtualized environment and other improvements have taken CSUEB's datacenter from 39.1 kWh to 1.7 kWh, representing a 95 percent savings -- which adds up to an estimated $2,500 per month. Moreover, thermal output has dropped by 95 percent, thus reducing the energy required to cool the datacenter. Further sweetening the deal: CSUEB received a rebate from PG&E for deploying energy-saving storage hardware.

The virtualized environment has taken energy usage at CSUEB's datacenter from 39.1 kWh down to 1.7 kWh, representing a 95 percent savings. Moreover, thermal output has also dropped by 95 percent, thus reducing the energy required to cool the datacenter. Further sweetening the deal is that CSUEB received a rebate from PG&E for deploying energy-saving storage hardware.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.