What’s Next with Data Center Energy Efficiency—Facilities or IT?

What is the next trend in data center energy efficiency? I may be biased because I am more of an ICT guy than a facility guy, when I talk about data centers. Based on my unscientific data, 70%–80% of people who attend a data center conference are facility folks; IT folks are a minority. When I look back, data center energy efficiency has been discussed primarily from the viewpoint of the facility—the mechanical and electrical equipment and how it is operated.

In the opening speech of the 5th SVLG Data Center Energy Summit, Anne Smart, Director of Energy, Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), gave a good introduction to this topic as well as to Andrew Feldman, Corporate VP and General Manager, AMD, who delivered the keynote speech. You can watch their speeches here (a little over 16 minutes).

Andrew was CEO of SeaMicro, which developed and marketed low-power servers and was acquired by AMD earlier this year. Because the video is less than 20 minutes, you may want to invest your time in watching it yourself. But his point was simple. There is an area where we made significant progress in energy efficiency for data centers, but there is another area where we did not make much progress. The former is the facility side and the latter is the IT side. A lot has been done about energy efficiency in the facility area, such as finding better ways of cooling (hot/cold aisle and air economizer), which Andrew called low-hanging fruit. Now cooling efficiency has improved to three one-hundredths of the power required to run a server.

Now about IT. Let me inject my thoughts here before going on with Andrew’s speech. Before he started discussing the energy efficiency of IT in the data center, I knew I was going to agree with him. We have been trying to alleviate the symptom of data center energy problems by attempting to control cooling and power rather than curing the root cause of the data center energy crisis, that is, efficient ICT equipment and making better use of it, that is, running it without utilizing its full capacity. Emerson in its energy logic claims that IT is the root cause of the large consumption of power in data centers and we had better control IT. We are beginning to pay more attention to IT as we try to control data center power usage. We need to pay more attention to using more energy efficient equipment, such as SeaMicro’s, and using virtualization to increase the utilization of each server. We need more than PUE to gauge and measure IT efficiency. There have been a few data center metrics proposed, such as McKinsey’s CADE. The Japanese have proposed DPPE. Both metrics take IT’s behaviors into consideration. I recently found an interesting metric for IT energy efficiency called Par 4. I have not reviewed it yet, but the short description I read sounds interesting. I plan to write a separate blog on it.

Andrew started to talk about IT (servers) in terms of data center energy efficiency. He dealt with server energy efficiency at SeaMicro with low-power chips before he came to AMD. And he is one of the most qualified persons to discuss the subject. He bluntly stated that he was disappointed at the progress we have made in that department, because a server is the most powerful consumer of power in a data center and needs more attention.

He mentioned that like anything else energy efficiency improvement for servers began with the low-hanging fruit. In this case, it was the power supply. The power supply used to lose 18% in transit from PDU to server. Now with advances in power supply technology, it is down to 7%. But the real meat in energy efficiency is the server itself. At SeaMicro, Andrew and his team developed a server that requires only a quarter of the power necessary for other servers. But it took five years and $50M, which was not readily available from the VC community in the funding climate then. He is thankful to the Department of Energy and the State of California for their grants that made it possible for SeaMicro to complete their servers.

He wrapped up his talk by saying that we should not stop innovating in energy efficiency in both facility and server technologies. Power is such a big problem in the data center that we need to keep working on it.

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.

, , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply