SDForum Green Data Center Breakfast

There are many conferences and meetings about green data centers, and I attend as many as possible. On Nov. 16, SDForum presented Clean Tech Breakfast: Greening the Data Center, in association with Nixon Peabody. I enjoyed it very much. The only complaint I have is that it was in San Francisco and started at 8 a.m. Those who do not live in the SF Bay Area may not know that it takes at least one hour to drive there from Silicon Valley. On top of that, I hate to drive in downtown San Francisco so I took a train, and my day started very early.



Back to the report on the meeting. Mavis Yee of Nixon Peabody moderated a discussion among four data center experts.


  • Mavis Yee, Partner, Nixon Peabody


  • Mukesh Khattar, Energy Director, Oracle
  • Rick Chateauvert, Regional Manager – West Coast Facilities, EMC
  • Andrew Feldman, Founder and CEO, SeaMicro
  • Mike Dauber, Vice President, Battery Ventures

From left: Mukesh Khattar and Rick Chateauvert

From left: Andrew Feldman and Mike Dauber

Low-power IT equipment

I’m seeing some changes in this kind of meeting these days. In the past, most attention was given to how to cool data centers where power density was intensifying as virtualization and cloud computing packed more servers onto a rack. As Andrew emphasized, if servers did not consume 70% of the power (including power to fuel servers and cool them), data centers would not consume so much power. An easy solution is to produce servers that consume less power and, thus, less heat.

SeaMicro uses Intel’s Atom processor, which was originally designed for laptops. Use of this processor reduces power consumption by 75%. Remember that NEC also has a server line that uses the Atom processor. Another low-power and low-end processor is Arm’s. Calxeda (formerly Smooth-Stone), uses the Arm processor. Microsoft may use the Arm processor for Windows 8. Andrew’s theory of why the technologies at the lower layer will take over was interesting. They’ll do it through sheer volume. Low-end processors are used for laptops and mobile devices whose volume is several orders of magnitude greater than that of servers.

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Developing a Data Protection Strategy for Virtual Server Environments
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The volume servers based on x86 contributed to the Web/Internet revolution because of their low price, but commodity servers may not be good for every application. Highly power-dense (and, therefore, highly heat-concentrated) data centers need specialist servers rather than generalist servers, according to Andrew.

Use the resources as needed without reserving too much headroom

Mike made the point that most devices and equipment are designed to allow headroom, just in case an unexpected surge in demand occurs. It was hard (and still may be, to some extent) to project the needs of each resource at the time of design, and people tend to assign more resources than necessary. As technologies like virtualization and variable speed fans advance, the allocation of resources as they’re needed is becoming more prevalent.

Monitor what you can control

One trend is to suggest monitoring. Mukesh made two interesting comments. One is to monitor something you can control. Monitor just for the sake of monitoring and even if you cannot change the behavior of the monitored devices. The other is that most available sensors are too expensive, on the order of $1,000 each. Mukesh said the price needs to come down to $50 to $100 per sensor. He also mentioned that the software side of IT can be dynamically commissioned and decommissioned in real time, but the facilities infrastructure (mechanical and electrical) cannot be managed like that.

Ultimate green data centers

Rick mentioned that EMC is building a new data center in North Carolina. He said that a data center needs multiple technologies and know-how to make it energy efficient. One part of a data center may have low-power servers, while another part has intensified heat (because of 10–12kW/rack). Those two sections require different technologies and operational practices. It is also important to set the right temperature for the data center. Rick also mentioned the emergence of SSD as a viable replacement for HDD, perhaps in five years. In sum, small things can add up to more energy efficiency.

Innovation can start at data centers

Andrew sounded like an entrepreneur. He emphasized that technology innovation can start at data centers. People who are involved in data centers are very technical and are motivated to try out new things. On top of that, they are likely to share their results in open-source form. He said that was why Linux got traction in data centers. As power alone occupies one-third of opex, and power and space combined take 70% of opex, the likes of Yahoo and Google need to innovate to reduce the power it takes to run their data centers.

Overall, this was a good session, and I enjoyed it very much.

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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