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The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: April 2007

Optimising the data centre

April 2007

Data centres are creaking under the strain of business demands for more of everything in smaller spaces and with less power. Network Times asked Danie Steyn, business development manager for Intel South Africa for his take on the future of the data centre.

Danie Steyn
Danie Steyn
Network Times: What are the real issues faced in data centres today in South Africa and the world?
Danie Steyn: The data centre can be a beast in terms of size and power consumption - some of the largest can take up a city block while consuming as much as 50 MW of power. Gartner has also estimated that the amount of the IT budget that goes towards paying the electricity bill of the data centre will rise from 10% to 50% in the next few years. As IT budgets either remain static or shrink, it becomes more difficult for IT departments to manage the data centre properly. 50% of the total energy costs for a data centre go toward airconditioning just to keep servers at the best operating temperature. The rest of the cost is for the servers themselves. The growth of the Internet and greater emphasis on data retention and on-line transactions, have pushed the performance curve of the average data centre to the limit. It is one thing to simply add more servers to cope with the demand but there are associated costs in terms of space, additional power and ventilation that need to be considered. At the same time, the historical practice of assigning one application per server has been superceded by the need to wring as much performance from each server as possible.
Network Times: Various vendors have come up with space/power/heat saving technologies - are these having a real impact or is the cost of conversion too high?
Danie Steyn: The answer is a move to better hardware technology that is capable of upping the performance levels while reducing the power requirements and heat generation as well as eliminating the need to physically expand the data centre to cope with future increases in demand. This is particularly important to the South African ICT scenario where the country's current power generation capabilities are being stretched to the limit. Any interruptions to a company's data centre operations in the form of outages can adversely affect the economic strength of the country as a whole. Therefore it is critical for businesses operating data centres to consider the costs of not converting to new hardware vs the business benefits of doing so.
Network Times: Is anyone out there helping to manage the whole data centre instead of selling components that reduce heat in one area or power consumption in another, or even blades as a rip-and-replace option?
Danie Steyn: System integrators such as IBM's eBusiness On Demand and HP's Adaptive Infrastructure are filling in the gaps for corporates looking to future-proof their data centres. Computer simulation tools such as Flovent are used to solve data centre cooling problems.
Network Times: Space, power and heat issues are important, but what about balancing the need to expand as the business demands?
Danie Steyn: The data centre has undergone huge growth in the last 10 years or so. Not only do more companies operate their own data centres, but these facilities themselves are forced to grow at an exponential rate in order to meet the demands of users. In fact, Intel itself serves as a good example of the rise of data centres with the number of facilities growing 900% since 1996. At the same time the number of servers in each facility has increased by 6000%. New server technology featuring improved, low-energy multicore processor systems, virtualisation and newer silicon fabrication techniques are the solutions to finding the balance between manageability and power in the data centre.
Network Times: What about security? Are we getting to the stage where people only enter the data centre in exceptional circumstances (such as a hardware failure), or are there still traffic problems?
Danie Steyn: Data centre security is really dependent on the company. Modern data centres are increasingly being designed around a 'Lights Out' environment where most management is executed remotely with only hardware maintenance requiring a physical presence within the data centre.
Network Times: Are there any innovative solutions out there or on the horizon to handle heat and power issues?
Danie Steyn: While there are a large number of areas of data centre technology in which Intel is making advances, three key technologies remain foremost - virtualisation, multicore processors and 45 nm technology. Traditionally, servers in the data centre have remained under-utilised, mainly due to their design for specific applications. Virtualisation allows operators to get more from each server by consolidating across multiple servers - effectively doing more with existing resources. This is important to consider since adding more boxes to an already packed facility is not necessarily cost-effective. An under-utilised server still draws power and therefore it makes little sense to waste any spare computing capacity.
Multicore processors are another method of boosting performance without drastically increasing space or power requirements. Intel's Core 2 Duo and Quad Core Xeon technology offer massive performance gains while at the same time reducing power consumption by as much as 40% compared to single core systems. A greater server density can be installed into a data centre without the need to upgrade input power or break down any walls.
The Intel Itanium processor contains 1,72 billion transistors using the 65 nm transistor process. The move to 45 nm fabrication in 2007 effectively doubles the number of transistors on a chip. Combined with innovations in the design of the chip, the typical leakage of each transistor has been reduced by 30%. For individual transistors, this amount is miniscule but in a single system with almost two billion transistors, the improvements are significant.
The current model of ever-increasing power consumption is unsustainable for the modern data centre. It is far more cost-effective to adopt the new server technology which will allow for greater processor densities and improved performance with lower power and space requirements. This will enable businesses to grow their data processing requirements far more smoothly without adversely affecting the IT department's ability to operate the data centre effectively.
A reliable power supply is the backbone of every high availability data centre. Rittal’s new UPS Power Modular Concept PMC 200 is a plug-in modular system that enables vertical redundancy. In other words, the redundant reserve modules in an uninterruptible power supply can be installed in the same rack.
This new system not only saves on space and costs, it also offers the extraordinary option of changing or adding modules during live operation, without having to switch to bypass mode. As a result, the Rittal UPS is available 24/7 without exception. There are no interruptions, not even for maintenance work. With the ‘N+1’ redundant design, each module can be exchanged or maintained after disconnection without interrupting operation. Another advantage of modularity is the short mean time to repair.
Rittal’s UPS PMC 200 has an even higher level of efficiency, which substantially reduces the energy costs throughout its service life. With efficiency of 96% at full load and – another exceptional feature: over 95% even for partial loads, the new UPS ranks among the top of its class internationally. The resulting cost savings amount to several thousand euros over a typical service life compared with less efficient UPS devices.
The high power density of the Rittal PMC 200 provides up to 200 kW UPS power per rack. Or alternatively, 250 kW/m² floor space. The modular system is equipped with a maximum of five UPS modules. These modules are available in the power levels 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 32 and 40 kW. This fine graduation underlines the demand for pay-as-you-grow systems. Customers only buy as much power as they need at any one time, making expensive overcapacity a thing of the past. At the same time, the modular concept also covers future power demands, which can be retrofitted online. Thanks to the reduction in weight, most modules can now be installed and removed by just one person.


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