IT Sense: Power Computing

Remember when we needed to carefully plan DASD utilization, lest we run out of floor space and need to build another building? Everything old is new again. This time around, the issue revolves less around space than around electricity. One thing that needs to be carefully considered as we plan IT facility growth and equipment acquisitions is how to guarantee the availability and reliability of electrical power. As we all know, equipment uses electricity and generates heat, and the more heat, the more you need to compensate with your Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) plants. The more HVAC capacity you require, the more electricity you consume …

Ask Dell, which is troubling less about CPUs these days than BTUs. According to the latest from CTO Kevin Kettler, servers are using about 40 percent of the power supplied to the company’s corporate data center, while storage is gobbling up 37 percent, and networking gear another 23 percent. The company is experimenting with different rack layouts to mitigate some of the heat generated by all their hardworking hardware.

You also can ask Citibank for their thoughts about power reliability. Together with 174,000 residents in Queens, NY, the company found one of its facilities without electrical power for several weeks following last July’s Con Edison blackout. Con Ed’s ham handling of the situation helped exacerbate already hot tempers, but it wasn’t the first, nor the last, we will hear about power problems. Experts say the New England Corridor, parts of Northern California, and the U.S. in general, can expect more outages. According to a government report filed as early as 2000, the country is said to have the power transmission grid of a Third World nation. It’s a safe bet weather extremes this summer will likely produce more outages, too.

We have the ingredients of a perfect storm brewing.

Cloud #1: Data is growing and regulations require us to retain data for a protracted timeframe. The array makers (and convenience) are guiding us to store everything on spinning rust, and disk arrays generate a great deal of heat that must be efficiently removed to reduce the leading cause of disk failure—heat itself. So, we’re deploying lots of disk. IDC says disk-based storage will grow 300 percent by 2010, reflecting perhaps the golden dreams of their storage vendor clients.

Cloud #2: The electrical power industry has been building power generation capacity for many decades, but has paid little attention to transmission systems. Generation is where the money is; transmission is a briar patch— especially given the concerns about the health issues associated with above-ground high tension wires. Billions of dollars would be required to bury cables, and most power companies would just as soon sell off their transmission business to companies that dig trenches for a living. The net result is the failure to keep pace with transmission and delivery demands, leading to overloads and blackouts.

Cloud #3: Global warming concerns will shortly be putting pressure on companies to reduce the consumption of utilities that produce greenhouse gases. Tax credits for carbon emission reduction are already popping up in Europe, but the U.S. seems to prefer a punitive approach. Expect to see laws introduced that compel companies to do something about their energy appetites or face penalties in the form of increased costs.

When these storm fronts intersect, and they will, we will all be scrambling to “green” our data centers. Initially, outsourcing will appeal. Data Islandia is one of the first storage service providers attempting to leverage the green phenomenon by pushing archive hosting services in Iceland, which is well-served by natural geothermal and hydroelectric power. Microsoft and Oracle, among others, are looking over the island country with an eye toward hosting data there.

There are two more things we can start doing now; the first is to spin disks down when we aren’t using them. Copan Systems and Zetera are focused on delivering storage products that enable you to shut down your spinning rust when the data they contain isn’t being frequently accessed or never accessed.

The second approach is to use tape or optical disk. With the latest technologies in these war horse data storage platforms, you can store an awful lot of archival or seldom accessed data for a long period of time without generating a lot of heat. While Gartner reported last year that one in 10 tapes fail on restore, that estimate is completely bogus. With high-end tape, where media never contacts the read/write head, failure rates are much lower. Ignore Gartner and look to tape or optical disc for a partial solution to your energy demands and heat generation problems.

Or, you could spend $50K plus per rack for HP’s latest water-cooled heat exchangers. Everything old is new again. Z