Friday, October 21, 2011

Four ways to reduce data center power Consumption

At a recent Association of Information Technology Professionals data center panel discussion, a seasoned group of IT admins discussed meeting customer power demands, with the consensus that demand is insatiable. Even as budgets seesaw from abundant to sparse, the demand curve never flattens, instead climbing skyward. The Jevons Paradox, the nineteenth century axiom of “the more we produce, the more we consume,” looms large in IT for the foreseeable future. Or as my colleagues say, “If you build it, they will fill it.”  The first panel warning was that virtualization is not a cure-all for reducing data center power consumption. Of course, there’s a clear advantage to high-density computing --cramming many virtual machines (VMs) into a single server -- but CPU demands for power and cooling still grow with each VM. In many cases, power and cooling costs shift from distributing power across lots of small servers to boosting power to cool red-hot VM-hosting systems.
 It’s not just about CPUs cranking out BTUs, which raises the next issue. The power needed for cooling, lighting, battery backup (UPS systems) and other environmental factors usually accounts for 35% or more of a data center’s total energy consumption, regardless of how efficient a building is built. Servers gobble watts, and keeping them happy is major overhead.
 Another important panel consideration was to shorten the return on investment. Returns have to show up fast -- within days or weeks. Nevermind three-to-five year returns -- in this economy, strained budgets can’t wait. All of the panelists insisted that IT managers have to show fast results before selling long-term solutions.
 So what are fast turnaround projects that deliver results quickly? The suggestions below are somewhat small, mostly single project efforts, or at least quick changes without high infrastructure costs. Combining them could create a synergy where the sum is greater than the parts, but doing so isn’t required to make efficiency gains. There were four main ideas presented for reducing data center power consumption, each of which can be implemented separately.

Switch to variable-speed fans
Recent research found that power consumption drops 30% for every 10% reduction in fan speed. As the name implies, these fans only consume power when needed, only running at the speed required, based on fairly sophisticated thermostatic measures. Since these fans slow down over long periods of time at low CPU utilization, they quickly decrease powerusage with each non-turning blade. And don't stop with servers; check cooling features of UPS devices and power supplies of various appliances on the same power grid, plus any other hot spots that may have a fan spinning for a while.

Raise the air temperature      
According to data center infrastructure suppliers, modern servers can perform well up to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet many data centers have cooled servers down to mid-60 degrees F for years. By raising the ambient air temperature a few degrees, there can be an immediate drop in power usage by the cooling system with no server performance impact. There’s no overhead or investment needed, although close monitoring and a solid pilot program would be advisable to avoid unpleasant surprises. Granted, a slightly warmer server room can be a disconcerting change. For example, the dress code may have to be adjusted to allow for lighter clothes in warmer conditions.

             Use bigger, slower drives
 Of course, this should not be done for high-demand transactional processes, such as financial databases or critical 24-hour systems. But by delegating a percentage of mostly unused files to a lower tier of storage, big, low-energy demand drives can replace small, fast units. In turn, less drives burn less energy, creating less heat. This can be an expensive undertaking, but as most shops build out more storage every quarter, they should see it as a worthwhile investment.

Use hosted services                
Although moving IT workloads to a cloud or colocation provider externalizes the carbon consumption off to the host site, many will concede that big vendors are experts at squeezing the most out of a kilowatt. By using hosted services, you’ll be able to focus on delivering better value at a lower cost for your customers.

The risks of data center power consumption projects
IT organizations need to acknowledge the inherent risks in energy-efficiency projects. As one power company director put it, in a high-density, highly efficient environment, the data center can go thermal in seconds. Several recent high-profile outages started as a partial interruption, but cascaded to bringing down the entire facility. The catalyst – overheating that spread from rack to rack until all systems shut down for self protection.
The final warning: Spell out any risks before implementing changes to the data center and make sure to get executive support before pursuing any of these tactics of reducing data center power consumption.

By Mark Holt, Contributor,

Monday, October 17, 2011

Aberdeen Helps Out The U.S. Army With Its Stirling Storage Solutions

Storage is an important facet of any data center, but when the data center in question belongs to the U.S. Army, finding a secure, reliable storage solution is even more vital. With the U.S. Army in need of a large, fast storage solution for hosting user data and providing disk-based backups, Jeff Dupere, network administrator of the AATD (Aviation Applied Technology Directorate), turned to Aberdeen. “We also needed a complete turnkey solution to begin leveraging a virtualized environment,” Dupere says. “This included a storage-area network, hosts for running the virtual machines, and the Fibre Channel connectivity to tie the two together. Also, the entire solution needed to be VMware-certified.”
The Right Stuff
Aberdeen’s sales rep provided Dupere with the expertise of one of Aberdeen’s engineers, who helped to determine the best solution for the U.S. Army’s environment and needs. The solution included four Stirling 266 servers (2U SuperServers that support Intel’s Nehalem processors), an XDAS D-Series SAN (a 4U, 24-bay Fibre 8G/SAS 6G DAS), and a Stirling X888 (an 8U storage server). “The Stirling 266s provided us with the hosts for running our VMs, the DAS gave us the backend storage for hosting the data for those VMs, and the X888 met the storage requirements for our user data and disk backups,” Dupere says. The equipment offered all of the required features necessary for the job, such as full redundancy, high amounts of storage, and fast I/O.
Aberdeen’s solution was evaluated against several well-known competitors. “In the end, the solution Aberdeen offered was well-supported, exceeded our performance requirements, and was significantly less expensive than the other offerings,” Dupere says. “They are also one of the few companies I’ve seen to offer a full five-year warranty on virtually all of their equipment at no additional cost. Given our life cycle commonly exceeds three years on server hardware, this was a significant advantage.”
With its dual LGA 1366 sockets, the Stirling 266 is a 2U SuperServer 6026T-TF that’s capable of utilizing Intel’s high-end Nehalem processors. There are also 12 DDR3 sockets that can support up to 192GB of Registered ECC DDR3 or up to 48GB of unbuffered memory with ECC. Helpful features include support for KVM over LAN and virtual media over LAN through the integrated IPMI 2.0 and Realtek dedicated LAN. The U.S. Army will also enjoy peace of mind with built-in PC health monitoring. There are four onboard voltage monitors for the processors, as well as six fans with tachometer status monitoring. Environmental temperature monitors, including chassis and CPU  overheat alarms, provide further security. “[The Stirling 266] is what the engineer recommended, and based on previous experiences, I was happy to go with his suggestion,” Dupere says. 

Aberdeen also preloaded ESXi on the hosts of the server, which made the environment turnkey for the Army. “We more or less just had to install the equipment in the racks and turn it on,” Dupere says. “They also were able to provide all the extras we needed (additional drives, controllers, etc.) to make onsite repairs much quicker.”
The Stirling X888 storage server can provide up to 100TB of storage, and the U.S. Army took advantage of the X888’s dual SFF-8087 miniSAS connectors to connect with the Aberdeen XDAS D-Series SAN to deliver up to 196TB of storage. “We needed a ton of storage and very fast I/O,” Dupere says. “The Stirling X888 had this in spades—so much so that we’re in the process of buying another to supplement our environment.” For fast I/O when needed, the server features quad Gigabit Ethernet LAN and dual SAS expansion ports. And Aberdeen’s Teaming Technology offers transfer rates up to 430MBps with an added XDAS-iSCSI RAID enclosure. The Army also benefits from Intel’s QuickPath Interconnect Tech-nology, which can be found on Intel Xeon 5500 Series processors, providing them with 6.4GTps and 4.8GTps data transfer speeds.
The SAS RAID on the X888 includes dual IOP348 1,200MHz PCI-E controllers, and each controller features 512MB of DDR2-553 SD RAM with ECC protection. The controllers support RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10. Overall, the Stirling X888 can provide up to 1,200MBps of internal transfer speeds. The RAID controllers can also support SATA disk drives and SAS hard drives at the same time. External SAS connectivity is also available via the SFF-8088 connector. The miniSAS backplane on the X888 provides the Army with 50 (48 front, 2 rear) hot-swap/hot spare SATA 3.0 drive bays.
The 8U chassis comes with a 1,760W 3+1 redundant hot-swap power supply. Fan maintenance is also a breeze with the eight hot-swappable 80mm cooling fans. Options for flexibility with the build include a DVD-R or CD-RW and software upgrades such as iSCSI, NAS, SAN, and backup software.
The XDAS D-Series is a 4U high-speed, high-availability SAN that features four 8GB Fibre Channel host ports on each of the controllers, which are ideal for the fast throughput and I/Ops needed by the U.S. Army. The XDAS also features full support for 6Gbps SAS drives to provide support for today’s fastest hard drives. The XDAS D-Series is also designed to be always available with fault-tolerant hardware modules, including redundant controllers, PSUs, and fans. As such, there’s no single point of failure for the U.S. Army to worry about.
Other helpful protection features include real-time problem detection and notifications through multiple monitoring capabilities on the XDAS. And intelligent firmware helps to protect against hardware failure to optimize performance and maintain data integrity. The XDAS D-Series uses a power supply that’s more than 80% efficient, and it can spin down the drive to save energy when the disks aren’t in use.
The U.S. Army benefits from the XDAS D-Series’ local replication abilities. XDAS storage provides the Army with both snapshot and volume copy/mirror capabilities. Full data copies let administrators quickly restore service if a RAID volume fails, and files can be restored or rolled back through the XDAS’ snapshot copies. Some upgrades the U.S. Army chose to add include increasing the bandwidth across the Fibre Channel fabric and adding larger drives.
Dupere says that the set of products the Army chose from Aberdeen has met or exceeded all of the group’s expectations. “Aberdeen is not a huge company like some of their competitors, as evidenced that few folks will recognize the name when you bring it up,” Dupere says. “That said, they offer solutions and equipment that are every bit on par with the commonly referenced brands in this genre. From sales, to the product itself, to the support you receive afterward, you will not be disappointed.”
A number of intelligent storage systems, including the Stirling 266 servers, Stirling X888 storage server, and the XDAS D-Series SAN, designed to offer high-capacity, high-performance solutions to organizations in need of fast and reliable storage.
“[Aberdeen offers] solutions and equipment that are every bit on par with the commonly referenced brands in this genre. From sales, to the product itself, to the support you receive afterward, you will not be disappointed,” says Jeff Dupere, network administrator of the U.S. Army’s AATD (Aviation Applied Technology Directorate).