Metering and Measuring at Data Centers, Arch Rock’s Way

After I bumped into the same person three times in a row in October at data center–related conferences and other events, I decided that something or someone must be telling me I need to spend more time with him. Tom Canning is a data center consultant at Arch Rock, which manufactures sensors for buildings and data centers and makes a network technology and an energy management application to collect, aggregate and analyze data like power consumption, temperature, and humidity.

Actually, Arch Rock is not totally new to me. Several years ago, I met Dr. David Culler at his Berkeley motes meeting when he was still with UC Berkeley. Later, I learned that he founded his own company while taking a sabbatical or something like that. At that time, Arch Rock was targeting buildings and factories for its business, which did not interest me too much. Later, the company added data centers as target customers. After repeated meetings with Tom, I decided to pay a visit.

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Electrical Efficiency Measurement for Data Centers
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Unlike other meetings I’ve had with other companies, this meeting was over lunch. I did not take any notes or record the conversation, so I am writing this from memory. Roland Acra, CEO, joined us for lunch.

Arch Rock is in the same general space as the likes of SynapSense, Sentilla, Sensicast, and OSIsoft—in the business of measuring power consumption, temperature, humidity, air pressure, and chiller performance. One thing different about Arch Rock is its insistence on the use of standard IP technology, including on the sensors. Equally, Arch Rock’s Energy Optimizer application is based on open IT standards that enable easy data import and export with other enterprise applications for analysis or budgeting or alerts. Certainly, IP has become the protocol of choice for several network types and is growing in its application areas. However, in the building management system (BMS) space, IP is usually not spoken. Arch Rock installs its wireless IP-enabled gear where new visibility enabled by battery-based wireless mesh networking brings advantages, such as around data center racks and aisles, and it provides an interface with other protocols such as Modbus towards legacy power or cooling equipment where IP is not implemented. Although IP may not be the most efficient protocol compared to proprietary approaches, Arch Rock’s FAQ states quite convincingly why IP is fine in its product.

As for data centers vs. other buildings, Roland felt that people in the data center space seem to have less of a mental barrier to installing their gear, mainly because they are more technically oriented. Also, from a business point of view, data centers require more sensors than other types of buildings and, thus, represent bigger sales volume.

Speaking of installing a large number of sensors, I asked whether Arch Rock employees install the sensors or whether the company partners with others. After having its employees install the gear, Arch Rock lets customers install it. According to Acra, installation goes smoothly. This is very important because it usually takes a lot of adjusting in the configuration of sensors. The IP-based approach used by Arch Rock means that there is a widely available skill set of IP-trained professionals to deploy the sensor networks, which – along with the auto-configuration and self-healing properties of the Arch Rock technology – makes installation easy and robust.

I have talked to the measuring companies mentioned above in the past and plan to talk to others in the near future.
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The more I talk to these companies, the more confused I get about the market they are in. But after bouncing ideas with Roland and Tom, I think I can say something a little more reasonable about this space.

Even though measuring power consumption at rack level is certainly a good way to obtain more-accurate information, the vast majority of data centers measure power consumption at the UPS level (if they measure it at all), according to the draft Energy Star for data centers. Unlike power, measurements for temperature, humidity, and air pressure need to be taken at each rack.

It appears that it will be a few years before this sensor-oriented measuring technology enters the mainstream. The market is in an early stage, allowing multiple entrants into the space and waiting for someone to break out of the pack and take a leadership position.

I repeat here what I told Roland. It is very difficult to develop a technology and make a product out of it. But measuring as a concept is simple and even trivial, and there are only so many ways to measure the limited number of useful data types. Once sensor-based measurement becomes the standard, it will become a commodity and will be integrated into a bigger system. Then differentiation should come from such things as execution, alliance, distribution, and ecosystem. As for sustainability extension, Roland felt that it would come after Arch Rock’s current technology entered the mainstream.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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