Claudio Bellia and I had the pleasure to attend the DatacenterDynamics Converged conference for the third year. DCD Converged is a one-day, peer-led data center conference that gathers IT and Facility professionals.
What I like the most about this conference are the case study sessions. During these sessions, organizations present real-life initiatives about how they managed to improve data center efficiency and save a good amount of energy – good for the environment and company cash. In the process, they share interesting internal details, sometime previously undisclosed, about the company data centers.
The DCD conference traditional audience are facility designers and operators. However, over the years I have noticed increasingly relevant IT sessions, which demonstrates a growing recognition that, in addition to facilities, also servers, storage and networks management offers large potential optimization opportunities.
Here’s some highlights from the two sessions I have found the most interesting.
Telecom Italia and CNR Case Study: Energy Consumption and Cost Reduction through Data Center Workload Consolidation
The case study highlighted how Telecom Italia (the largest italian telecommunication operator) is saving significant amounts of energy and costs thanks to initiatives specifically targeted at the “IT part” of the data center through servers, storage and workload consolidation.
The session started off by showing the global medium-term trends that are driving the enterprise IT evolution. Besides the usual suspects, such as cloud computing, big data and open source software, two lesser talked-about trends are the adoption of commodity hardware (no big news here) and IT efficiency, which can be summarized as proper server selection with energy efficiency in mind and, at the micro level, using knowledge of server workloads to perform consolidations and improve capacity planning (a relatively new concept). As IT optimization experts, in Moviri we wholeheartedly believe in IT Efficiency as as a major source of innovation, energy and cost savings, available to organizations todays and in the future.
The next key point was about technology refresh initiatives that Telecom Italia has performed to take advantage of the evolution in servers such as adoption of virtualization and more powerful and efficient CPUs and storage such as thin-provisioning and autotiering, to optimize the usage of the existing resources and to slash energy bills. Traditional capacity management approaches too often can be summarized as: “do not buy new hardware until the installed capacity (read: sunk investment) is fully used”. At Moviri we believe this mantra has become obsolete, as current data center cost structures are very different from 20 years ago. Energy costs are impacting data center TCO in important ways (20% and rising) and proper technology refresh and server selection are paramount to achieving energy and costs saving, while reducing footprint and increasing processing capacity too!
Another point is related to server processor selection. Despite CPUs increasing computing power and capacity over time (courtesy of Moore’s Law), what is often overlooked is which processor provides the best fit from a performance and cost perspective. Telecom Italia highlighted how newer Intel CPUs, if properly selected, can be a source of cost and energy savings. I can add that, in my experience, I have seen how different CPU performance and price greatly vary among different models on the market, so equipping the entire server fleet with the same, standard CPU will guarantee unused capacity, unnecessarily high acquisition (CAPEX) and energy (OPEX) costs. As performance is workload dependent, a proper characterization of datacenter workloads is paramount to really understand what are the requirements and consequently make the best investment.
Finally, the session focused on the adoption of an emerging paradigm called Intelligent Workload Management: managing the workloads in dynamic, virtualized environment, to achieve increased utilization levels, reduce stranded capacity and save costs. Telecom Italia adopted this concept by implementing two products: Intel Datacenter Manager and Eco4Cloud. The former product enables a fine-grained collection of power and thermal metrics directly from the servers. The latter is an automated workload consolidation solution, designed by a CNR (Italian National Research Council) spin-off company, that can pack virtual machines into fewer servers and hibernate the others. This resulted in at least 20% energy savings (gigawatt-hours!) and clearly highlights how a data center infrastructure management solution (DCIM) is important to optimize data center efficiency and capacity.
Case Study: Eni Green Data Center – Why 360° Monitoring?
This case study, presented by Eni (the largest italian gas utility), highlighted the energy efficiency design and operation of the newest company data center.
The first interesting data point relates to facility efficiency (a.k.a. Power Usage Effectiveness or PUE) and to where the power goes (read: is wasted) in a typical data center vs. an optimized one. Standard, legacy data centers typically are poorly efficient (PUE > 2, or even 3), which means that up to 2/3 of the total energy entering the data center is wasted before reaching the IT equipment. What are the greatest offenders? Chiller plants, fan and pump losses, UPS/transformer losses. In contrast, the newest ENI datacenter has been designed with a 1.2 target PUE, which means that energy wasted in facilities is less than 20 percent.
What did ENI do to achieve such level of efficiency? The actions where: (a) use of free cooling for > 75% of the time (b) use of high-efficiency chillers (c) introduction of large chimneys for natural heat extraction (taller than a 10-floor building!) (d) use of offline, small (200 KW), efficient (>99.4%) UPS (e) cold air containment.
A key insight that ENI shared was why a pervasive, comprehensive, fine-grained monitoring system is paramount to understand and tune a complex plant such as a data center. ENI’s monitoring system is tracking 50,000 metrics with a 10-second collection interval – and no data aggregation or purging is planned! Such a vast amount of data enables ENI to identify anomalies, increase efficiency and prevent issues before they impact production operations, such as identifying fans rotating in opposite directions or uncalibrated energy meters reporting wrong values.
I hope you enjoyed my summary. The main, positive message which I’d like to convey to IT and Facility managers struggling with tight budgets is: start looking closely to your datacenter efficiency and costs, chances are that you might save huge amounts of energy and money, decrease your company environmental footprint and increase your IT capacity, perhaps even avoid building unnecessarily new facilities. And be sure not to focus on facilities only, as the IT equipment is where most optimization potential can be realized.
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