Cool factor

Power and cooling remain among the biggest challenges faced by datacentre managers. However, with a little effort these issues can be controlled to ensure higher productivity from equipment.

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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  February 15, 2009

Power and cooling remain among the biggest challenges faced by datacentre managers. However, with a little effort these issues can be controlled to ensure higher productivity from equipment.

There are not many issues that can get an IT manager's hackles up as the ones surrounding power and cooling.

With equipment density increasing in every datacentre across the globe, optimal power receipt and distribution, along with adequate cooling has become essential to keep server rooms running at ideal performance levels.

Many datacentre and real estate projects across the GCC are being delayed due to power shortages. At present, the power deficit (demand versus current capacity) across the region prohibits Tier-3 or Tier-4 datacentre implementations.

"Datacentres worldwide need proper planning to ensure availability, scalability, agility and lower operating costs. Lowering power consumption and cooling costs is a major concern for datacentres around the world. That objective assumes special importance in the Middle East, where environmental conditions and infrastructure development place higher demands on the average datacentres," points out Khalid Khalil, regional sales manager CEMA at Brocade.

The truth is that power problems remain the same globally. However, these same problems  tend to be compounded in the Middle East by two important factors - the lack of adequate infrastructure in certain countries and the weather.

"Many datacentre and real estate projects across the GCC are being delayed due to power shortages. At present, the power deficit (demand versus current capacity) across the region prohibits Tier-3 or Tier-4 datacentre implementations. Since most of the datacentre investments in the region will be new-build as opposed to consolidation, it is imperative that basic infrastructure like power and cooling are able to provide a solid footing to the build-up," says Vipin Sharma, VP of EEMEA and India sales at Tripp Lite.

"This is a key issue that we face in this part of the world where, until recently, it has been difficult to supply enough power to the huge demand of rising building construction, especially in the UAE," agrees Nidal Abdulhadi, datacentre facility manager at eHosting DataFort (eHDF).

This is compounded by the prevailing weather conditions in the Middle East.

"One of the key issues in this area is the ambient temperature and the outside temperature of the air. You will see that during summer months the actual costs of cooling the datacentre goes up, because the ambient temperature is hotter and so more cooling power needs to be involved to cool the interiors of the datacentre," says Victor Smith, EMEA strategic technologist at Dell.

He continues, "So your geography, where winter temperatures are almost as high as summer temperatures, is not going to help you. It exacerbates the same problems."

All of the above are only set to become worse, as countries in the region continue to grow to any extent and datacentres continue to be built at high densities.

"Current blade servers in facilities have densities that consume power of up to 10KW per rack, and this puts a huge weight on facilities for continuity. In 2009, we are expecting more than US$500 million worth of investments to be channelled towards brand new datacentres across the Middle East," says Sharma.

"Four to five years ago we had only 4.5 KW per rack, and the thing is that will increase up to 20 KW in the future. And therefore, you have to think about new ideas on how to bring the heat out of the datacentres," adds Juergen Heidegger, director marketing for infrastructure products at Fujitsu-Siemens Computers.

The need for control

The amount of power going in, the heat being generated and the relevant amount of cooling have to be measured and moderated by datacentre managers at a constant level. This is because extremes of temperature can prevent equipment from providing optimal levels of performance.

Planning well at the initial stages of building a datacentre, and putting in efforts into building design can go a long way in preventing many of the later problems involving power and cooling.

"The key is forecasting and planning, and understanding the constraints in the beginning rather than learning them later when it is too late. IT professionals need to incorporate power consumption and availability features into their equipment requirements. In addition to that, datacentre professionals must make their plans with the understanding that disasters will strike and they need to have realistic plans for dealing with that," explains Khalil.

Smith adds, "The basics include making sure that the hot and cold air remain separated in someway with enclosures.  The second point is to have scaleable infrastructure and you have to set the right design to have that."

Experts also recommend  that some care be spent on choosing the location of the datacentre. For example, building it underground sometimes helps reduce cooling requirements, because the temperatures are generally lower below ground.

If the planning stage is not as rigorous as it needs to be, datacentre managers can be faced with power and cooling issues later. The good news though is that they can still do remedial measures within an established datacentre to regain control.

And the first place to start would be the infrastructure. "At the infrastructure level, you can consolidate servers. That means bring more powerful and better performing servers into the datacentre, so that you need instead of 20 servers only 8 servers to do the same job. And then you can have a look at the utilisation of the servers. We found out that most servers run at only 20% to 30% of their capacity. So there are really lots of under-utilised servers," states Heidegger.

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