Data Center Priority for 2012: Power

During 2011, data centers became more virtualized in a migration to cloud-based architectures, which began to reveal previously-hidden problems with power. In 2012 this trend will continue and even accelerate, further elevating the importance of power for IT.

By Brad Wurtz, President and CEO, Power Assure

Data centers began a major transition in 2011 driven by the need to control costs while satisfying new requirements. This transition is embodied in three major trends.

2011 Trend #1: Virtualization and "The Cloud" continued to gain in popularity

Early adopters moved quickly to virtualized environments and private clouds. This trend is quite significant because both changes will drive the need for higher levels of reliability and resource utilization, and provide a glimpse into what the data center of the future will look like when mainstream companies make the transition.

The glimpse reveals the need for a greater focus on efficiency, especially for those resources that can cause an organization to outgrow its data center. Gartner estimates that, on average, 40-60 percent of server rack space is underutilized, and that up to 30 percent of available power is similarly "stranded" in the typical data center. Virtualization helps with the former, but not necessarily with the latter. The fear of exhausting a data center's available power contributed to last year's second major trend.

2011 Trend #2: Data center managers began paying attention to the power bill

In most data centers, the facility manager pays the electricity bills, which have historically been a fixed cost that changed little with company growth. This traditional arrangement is also undergoing a transformation as data center managers begin paying attention to power. Power now accounts for up to 40 percent of total IT costs; in IT-centric companies, power can represent as much as 5 percent of total company expenses.

To put this into perspective, according to a 2007 EPA study, data centers consumed 61 billion kilowatt hours, or 1.5 percent of the national grid -- demand that is growing by roughly 16 percent annually. As a result, power availability, reliability and pricing are now the key factors for deciding where to locate data centers. Google, Facebook, and others are locating new data centers in remote areas such as Finland and other regions with cheap and abundant power (and high-speed fiber optics), such as the Pacific Northwest.

2011 Trend #3: Power monitoring and metering was integrated into IT equipment

In response to the growing importance of power in the data center, equipment vendors are also paying more attention to power by both improving equipment efficiency and integrating monitoring capabilities into their products. This change is being well received because without integral and standards-based power monitoring, organizations were faced with a significant investment of time (six months or more of effort) and money (upwards of $500,000) to equip their data center(s) with sensors, meters, and other power reporting tools in order to get the actionable information needed to improve efficiency metrics, such as power usage effectiveness (PUE) -- a common measure of data center efficiency.

This change has led, in turn, to the advent of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) and data center energy management (DCEM) systems. The typical DCI/EM system measures power consumption at the building-, circuit- and device-level, and monitors environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and airflow. Some offer advanced capabilities like auto-discovery, capacity planning, building management system integration, sophisticated yet intuitive dashboards, and comprehensive reporting. The best ones provide real-time monitoring, advanced analytics, and the ability to automate processes in cooperation with virtualization systems to continuously match server capacity with demand. Owing to the increased attention being paid to power, Gartner predicts that 60 percent of all organizations will have a DCIM or DCEM system by 2014.

The Year Ahead

In 2012, the migration to virtualized and private cloud environments will continue and even accelerate, and will be joined by two other related trends worth tracking.

2012 Prediction #1: Virtualization and "The Cloud" will become the new norm

The move to virtualized environments and private clouds is occurring faster than most industry analysts predicted. The large players are now moving into the public and private cloud market, as evidenced by recent offerings from IBM, EMC, and VMware. Numerous start-ups are also competing aggressively for market share, and their many innovations will further accelerate this significant trend. The result will be the widespread adoption of virtualization, with its ultimate implementation as a cloud-based infrastructure.

Growth in virtualized and cloud-based infrastructures is often accompanied by higher rack densities, causing power to grow as a percentage of overall IT spending. Both the U.S. Department of Energy and Gartner have observed that the cost to power a typical server over its useful life can now exceed the original capital expenditure. Gartner also notes that it can now cost over $50,000 annually to power a single rack of servers, and this is driving next year's next major trend.

2012 Prediction #2: Power will become an increasingly important consideration in IT decisions

One obvious way to reduce power consumption is to buy more energy-efficient equipment. Most IT departments are, therefore, starting to improve energy efficiency when adding capacity or during refresh cycles. To help IT managers make fully-informed decisions, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) created a new performance standard (UL2640) based on the PAR4 Efficiency Rating. PAR4 provides an accurate method for determining both absolute and normalized (over time) energy efficiency for both new and existing equipment.

To calculate server performance using the UL2640 standard, a series of standardized tests is performed, including a Power-On Spike Test, a Boot Cycle Test and a Benchmark Test. The test results are used to determine the server's idle and peak power consumption, along with transactions/second/watt and other useful metrics. These new metrics enable IT managers to compare legacy servers with newer ones, and new models with one another, when making purchasing decisions.

2012 Prediction #3: Operating multiple data centers will become more common

Virtualization has gained in popularity primarily owing to its cost-saving advantage, but virtualization can also enhance business continuity within and across data centers. The best practice in disaster recovery involves having multiple data centers dispersed geographically to minimize downtime during widespread disasters or outages, so it is not surprising that more organizations are beginning to operate multiple data centers (whether owned or hosted) with centralized monitoring and management.

Having multiple data centers under central control also minimizes disruption during Demand Response events, when utilities request (or require) a temporary reduction in power consumption during peak periods. Typically these peaks occur around the same local time of the day, but with data centers in different time zones, one's local load can be shifted to the other. By contrast, organizations with only a single data center may be forced to either pay more or shed (rather than shift) load during a Demand Response event.

A related and rather innovative way to reduce costs is with a "Follow the Moon" strategy where the load is shifted to the data center where the rates for electricity are the lowest, which is invariably at night when ambient temperatures are also at their lowest, thus saving on cooling costs.

For all of these reasons and more, 2012 may well be remembered as the year power became a top priority for IT.

Brad Wurtz is president and CEO of Power Assure. His 20-year career encompasses leadership roles in growing high technology companies in the global telecommunications and data center networking markets. Before joining Power Assure, Brad served as president for networking start-up, Compass Electro-Optical Systems, and as president and CEO of Caspian Networks. He has a BA from University of California/Berkeley and an MBA from Stanford University. You can contact the author at brad@powerassure.com.
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