Everyone wants to do more with less. In the data center, this means increasing the data load while reducing hardware, infrastructure, management and power consumption.
While most of these items are achievable with virtualization and automation, the power equation is a bit trickier, if only because most people outside the industry fail to appreciate the connection between the data services they demand and the energy it takes to provide them. Even if systems are more efficient, at the end of the day, the data center industry is still consuming steadily more power.
Admittedly, part of this is due to lack of participation from the data center industry. As a recent survey from IDC pointed out, the bread-and-butter enterprise still has not jumped on the energy efficiency bandwagon like the web-scale industry has. Simple economics plays a big part in this equation: Large-scale facilities have to drive efficiency to new levels lest their energy budgets crash the entire business model. As well, standard enterprises often have lower utilization rates in order to protect critical apps and services, whereas large cloud providers are more adept at shifting loads should key components go dark.
Still, the average data center represents a major cost center for any business, so why aren’t organizations doing more to lessen their power bills? It may have something to do with the cloud itself, says Datacenter Journal’s Jeff Clark. Given the choice between replacing aging, high-power components with lower-power devices or simply porting workloads to the cloud, many are choosing the cloud, which ultimately should lower their own data costs. But is this necessarily more efficient? Perhaps not, given the losses involved in highly distributed network architectures, but it would largely depend on the workloads involved and the nature of the infrastructure.
Low power is also likely to infiltrate the data center on the processor level. ARM-based servers coupled with open software platforms like SUSE Linux will likely start to replace less efficient hardware as part of the normal refresh rate, perhaps cutting consumption in half when you add up the lower power draw and less cooling that the chips require. SUSE recently added ARM support to its openSUSE Build Service, which should allow third-party suppliers to speed up their implementation of 64-bit devices and SLES 12 binary files, leading to more rapid deployment in the data center.
Hardware is a key component of energy usage in the data center, but so is architecture – namely, the physical architecture of the data room. As Data Center Knowledge’s Mike Vizard points out, long-standing design concepts like raised floors may soon give way to less airy configurations. For one thing, data equipment is getting denser and heavier, requiring more rigged, and expensive, floor designs. And since cold air tends to sink, a good part of the A/C that the enterprise pays for winds up under the floor to no good purpose. As well, organizations might want to rethink their power distribution infrastructure and even the wattage they provide to their racks.
Of course, few enterprises are eager to undertake a bottom-up reconfiguration of their data center, so issues like energy efficiency are most often left to greenfield deployments or simply outsourced to someone else. At the end of the day, IT is rated on its ability to provide continuous service, so energy solutions that cannot be implemented in a non-disruptive manner will have a tough time making it to the data center.
To those on the outside, energy efficiency is a top priority. But to people who live and work in the data center every day, it is just one of the many practical realities of providing a robust, reliable data ecosystem.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.