Tech vendors asked to debunk bogus energy claims

Data centre managers who are consolidating their operations are asking for standards for rating the energy efficiency of data centres. Speakers at the Green Grid’s first Technical Forum, held Tuesday in San Francisco, are asking vendors for tools that would monitor energy consumption in multi-vendor environments.

Allstate Insurance, which is consolidating four data centres to two, is pursuing a silver rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard for sustainable construction for its second data centre, slated to open in the spring of 2009. However “LEED is not designed for data centres but focuses on commercial buildings with people in [them],” said Brandi L. Landreth, director of continuity management and data centre strategy at the insurance company. She called for a ratings standard that would specifically apply to data centres.

Landreth also called for the tech industry to create a tool for monitoring and managing energy consumption across multi-vendor systems, and suggested that vendors should provide clear product road maps that would enable customers to plan their data centres for the next two, five and 10 years — though she acknowledged that it would be impossible to predict as far ahead as five or 10 years.

Landreth also urged attendees to consider data centre physical building and IT systems as a whole platform when drawing up their green computing plans, saying that electrical vendors are now starting to network-attach their systems for easier monitoring.

A number of speakers at the Green Grid event said user education was the first challenge to greening their data centres. Educating internal users — even IT staff such as application developers — and computer component vendors of the need to focus on data centre efficiency instead of raw speed and power were two such challenges.

“We had to educate our applications department that there would be no loss of performance” from their servers due to consolidation, Landreth said. The development department was told to either use Allstate’s virtualized servers or pay for their own. The department chose the free processing.

At ADP, which three years ago consolidated from 20 data centres to two, going green meant talking to new partners — computer component manufacturers — instead of the usual computer hardware suppliers, said Renalto Crocetti, corporate vice president at the payroll services company.

When Crocetti first started to discuss energy efficiency with component manufacturers, such as storage and processor vendors, they still had “automobile syndrome,” preferring to “race for raw speed and power” rather than energy efficiency, Crocetti said. Though this has changed, he said.

Jim Miller, assistant vice president of IT at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said he spends much of his time meeting with IT equipment vendors “to influence their future products to reduce power and heat load.” Another challenge for the industry is to “debunk bogus claims” by some vendors that jump on the green computing bandwagon without producing technologies that genuinely meet the needs of companies that want to reduce their energy consumption, Miller said.

Allstate decided to consolidate from four data centres to two, which includes adding 15,000 square feet of raised floor space to its existing facility in Ohio and breaking ground on a new data centre in Illinois, slated to open in the spring of 2009. The new facility will sport a reflective roof, a closed loop system in the cooling plant, native landscaping, be non-irrigation and have natural lighting in the administration areas.

Virtualization is the goal of the data centre, said Landreth, through the use of blade servers, multiprocessing systems and storage-area networks, all of which will be installed as existing systems near the end of their life.

Other ways of energy efficiency, as promoted internally by Allstate, include power management software on PCs and the possible use of thin clients by end users.

Allstate projects that it will reduce its energy demand by 450% over the next 15 years.

Along with reducing the number of its data centres from 20 to two, and using technologies such as virtualization and multicore systems to save energy costs, ADP is considering ways to enable people to work from home and investigating telepresence videoconferencing to save on air travel. Crocetti said since the company started its green journey three years ago, it has reduced its data centre footprint from 200,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet, halved its power consumption to 2500 kilowatts and seen US$3 million per year in electricity savings.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car has two data centres in Missouri, one that was opened June 2001, and another that was expanded by 30,000 square feet in 2006 to support a new cooling infrastructure. Perot Systems hosts the data centre needs of Alamo and National, the car rental companies acquired by Enterprise last year.

Miller said the data centres are hot/cold aisle-oriented, which makes cooling more efficient and uses virtualization through 170 Windows images on 10 servers. Enterprise also has replaced traditional PCs with thin clients at its branches. Its energy efficiency efforts have netted savings of 3,247 tons of Co2 emissions, said Miller.