Two discussions in recent weeks have provided some interesting insights into the evolution of energy efficient data center technologies. First I spent some time talking to Emerson Network Power about its latest range of modular data center solutions. Modular is one the buzzwords of today’s data center market and steadily taking on whatever meaning the marketing department wants it to, but Emerson Network Power’s offerings are interesting in several ways.
SmartRow is a row-based integrated data center infrastructure aimed at small data center and remote sites. SmartMod is a modular integrated infrastructure with its own rapid deployment enclosure, which can be dropped in to add capacity to an existing data center or act as a stand-alone data center. SmartAisle provides row-based building blocks for the fast deployment of more tailored and flexible extensions to existing data center and for deploying high-density computing zones. All three solutions offer similar benefits in terms of the integration of cooling, power, and IT infrastructure as well as monitoring and maintenance features but differ in terms of the configuration flexibility and entry price points and are targeted at different segments of the market.
As an example, SmartMod includes racks and power distribution, UPS and cooling infrastructure (and integrated fire suppression) as well as monitoring and management tools. It can support between 30-400 kW of data center capacity and up to 28 racks. It is IT server-neutral and provides a standardized solution in terms of power and cooling operations but also offers options for N, N+1 or N+2 configurations for redundancy. Emerson Network Power claims that SmartMod can be deployed in three to four months rather than over a year for a new data center space.
Quick deployment and reduced costs are the obvious selling points for these solutions but they are also interesting because in they offer packaged intelligence. Because it is an integrated solution, Emerson Network Power is able to optimize the system and include additional monitoring tools. It says that these offerings typically achieve PUE ratios of 1.3, which with all the caveats that must accompany such measures, is still a pretty good indicator of what can be achieved from an integrated view point. Many data center managers will still prefer to go down the bespoke route but a modular approach allows them to increase the flexibility and decrease the costs of meeting growing demand. Interestingly, while Emerson Network Power claims that SmartMod can provide a modest capital expenditure saving – with the savings on room design and construction off-setting equipment costs – the operating expense saving due to the efficiency of an integrated design can reduce cost of around 27-29% over a five year period.
My other discussion was with the much smaller but well-established data center infrastructure provider, Trendpoint. Trendpoint has been in business around ten years and its initial product was the EnerSure smart meter which provides accurate circuit-level measurement of data center power use. It recently launched EnviroCube, which takes them into the cooling market for the first time. According to their CEO, Bob Hunter, the new product came about because of the input from a customer running a prestige data center for a global IT company. They wanted to know if they could use the detailed data provided by EnerSure on heat and power performance to adapt their cooling system. After a number of pilots, a large scale demonstration showed savings of around 30% on cooling costs using accurate data on IT power use. Trendpoint has now productized some of the insights from the EnviroCube project.
EnviroCube works by providing accurate information on demand and performance to the cooling system. The EnviroCube gathers data on both the output airflow and the return air flow to the cooling system as well the power usages/heat from the IT equipment. Then, air flow can be matched to the actual demands placed on that cooling unit rather than simply adjusting the flow in relation to the environmental temperature. Trendpoints’ argument is that adjusting temperature to regulate temperature, as environmental sensor based systems do, is always going to be an inefficient and inaccurate approach given the circular nature of the dependencies. An additional benefit of the EnviroCube approach is that it monitors the efficiency of the chiller unit and predicts likely failures. This means Trendpoint can claim that it is addressing both energy efficiency and reliability.
What particularly interested me about the Trendpoint approach is that it is further development in the visibility of data center operations and another step in closer integration of data center IT and facilities. Close monitoring of the performance of both becomes even more important in virtualized data center offering cloud computing services, with higher densities of equipment and greater unpredictability of demand. Bob Hunter makes the case, for example, that this level of visibility on heat and power in the data center offers the prospect of being able to manage distributed virtual machines in order to balance out computing power to match the environmental conditions, moving VMs from a hot spot to cooler area of the data center.
In some ways the modular solutions provided by Emerson Network Power are the direct opposite to the best-of-breed approach to data center management offered by Trendpoint. However, what they share is a drive towards closing the gap between cooling, power, and IT systems through greater visibility in to infrastructure and IT performance, embedded intelligence and automated response to real-time changes in the environment. This has to be achieved while continuing to assure reliability. Moving in this direction, the gap between facilities and IT narrows even further and we move closer to closed-loop management of the data center.