Virtualization no cure-all for data center energy crunch

Other advances are needed, including tight integration between IT gear and building management systems

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.

That's hard today, because building control and IT networks use different communication protocols. "Facilities today tend to be very reactive -- we haven't seen the same degree of IP enablement as you have in IT," Aldrich said. "If you look at how we manage environmentals for facilities, it really hasn't changed much since the '70s. There's no full convergence of these critical systems."

There are projects, including one led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to bring the building control and IT networks together, so that information taken directly from servers -- such as temperature, CPU utilization and fan speed -- can be used to control cooling systems directly.

"If we marry those two networks, the servers can control the building fans and air conditioning to give them exactly what they need," said Bill Tschudi, a program manager at Lawrence Berkeley.

It's not just a technical problem, however. The key is getting facilities staff, IT staff and corporate executives to tackle the problem together, said Eric Adrian, an executive vice president with Jones Lang LaSalle, which manages data centers for Bank of America. "You need a holistic approach," he said.

Press of Kaiser Permanente agreed. "We're going to have to work harder with our IT brothers and sisters and come together as a cohesive team."

But for him, the responsibility to get things moving lies with those who run the data centers.

"We build data centers to support the IT department; to them it's just a utility," he said. "We have to make them understand -- it's our responsibility to educate them."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Green data centerdata centresenergy efficiencyenvironmentvirtualisation

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

James Niccolai

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?