Hosting providers are in a constant battle for efficiency, though the resources that most directly limit that efficiency have changed over the years. While revenue per server, or per square foot were once the de facto standards for efficiency, more efficient technology has made power, not space the ultimate limiting factor for many hosts.
That means power efficiency has become one of the key pursuits for the companies that develop technology for service providers. And, in most cases, that means more efficient hardware.
For Intel, power efficiency is absolutely one of the key performance metrics considered when building processors. But probably less well known are the company’s efforts in developing software to help data center operators monitor and manage the power consumption in their facilities, enabling them to more efficiently provision cooling resources and consume power more wisely.
In an email interview with the Web Host Industry Review, Jeffrey S. Klaus, director of Intel’s Data Center Manager solutions discusses the power crunch in the data center in general, and talks specifically about some of the middleware tools Intel has developed to help push the power-efficient agenda inside facilities.
WHIR: In the last few years, there’s been a definite shift in the hosting space, where power, not physical space, is the major limitation when it comes to “capacity.” What are some of the key factors that are contributing to that?
Jeffrey S. Klaus: Today’s high-density servers are able to process much bigger workloads than previous generation servers, which in turn leads to more power consumption. In fact, I’ve seen industry figures that show energy costs are the fastest rising component in the overall operational costs of data centers. Not only this, but all the mobile devices, cloud computing, and more that we’ve grown accustomed to relying on, both personally as professionally, requires data centers to act as processing hubs. It’s easy to understand the strains these place on hosting providers’ capacity.
WHIR: Virtualization certainly has contributed a lot to that power squeeze, largely by enabling more efficient use of physical space. But is virtualization’s effect on power just an inherent result, or are there planning or strategy miscues that are contributing?
JK: I think the universal contribution to the power squeeze is that we’re all trying to squeeze more out of less, and to find ways to be more efficient at lower cost. So, virtualization’s contribution to a power squeeze really began with the question, “We have to reduce our budget, so how are we going to maintain the same levels of productivity while spending less money? Let’s virtualize.” Because more of us are answering the question with virtualization, then yes, virtualization’s effect is an inherent result, versus any lack of foresight.
WHIR: Very broadly, what can a hosting provider do in terms of hardware, software and strategy in order to better control its power consumption?
JK: This may sound obvious, but a fundamental step for hosting providers is to become aware of power consumption at a deeper, more granular level. So much of the power and thermal monitoring up ‘til a couple of years ago has been based on estimations or face plate ratings that can deviate from actual consumption by as much as 40 percent. Taking accurate, continual readings of what’s actually going on in terms of equipment power consumption, thermal usage, and more is therefore essential.
While Intel isn’t a hosting provider, I can share a simple anecdote from our own data centers: when we assessed our own power consumption, we discovered right off the bat that 12 percent of our servers were highly underutilized servers—using less than 15 percent of their capacity, but consuming 70 percent of their rated energy capacity. Unfortunately, overprovisioning power/cooling resources in data centers is fairly common. According to a McKinsey study, $24.7 billion is wasted each year on energy and cooling for unused servers.
WHIR: I know Intel’s efforts at controlling power consumption at the hardware level are pretty well known. Can you tell us a bit more about Data Center Manager, and any other software efforts Intel is working on concerning power management in the data center?
JK: Intel Data Center Manager SDK is an out-of-band power management solution that enables continuous monitoring on a granular level of power and thermal consumption in the data center. As part of a data center energy/thermal management platform, or in combination with analytics from an ecosystem of third-party Intel solution providers (typically data center infrastructure management or DCIM providers), Intel DCM SDK is the only hardware-agnostic platform that enables data centers to access continual, accurate (versus modeled or estimated) power consumption data at the server level and implement controls to better contain costs and increase energy efficiency.
Intel also developed Intel® Node Manager to monitor and control server’s power consumption and dynamically adjust platform power to achieve optimal performance and power. Intel DCM complements Intel Node Manager, but isn’t dependent on it to work effectively in the data center.
WHIR: The EPA is planning some new Energy Star standards for data centers this year. What kind of impact might they have on data centers?
The new Energy Star requirements are set to be implemented in July 2012. We’re happy to see that EPA also recognized power and thermal issues as top concerns in the datacenters, and even happier to see their initiatives around new Energy Start requirements and standards. We believe that these standards and the compliance of the OEMs with them will help drive energy efficiency in the datacenters.
WHIR: Is there a risk of any firm regulations coming down around power efficiency that could have an effect on the way hosting providers operate their data centers?
It’s interesting. We’re finding that power efficiency is more frequently driven by profitability requirements, rather than outside regulation. However, the recent changes in regulations in Japan have caught our attention. As the government-mandated nuclear power plant shutdowns have closed all nuclear reactors, web hosting providers and other data centers are converting to fossil fuel for energy, and paying a high price. I was recently in Japan, and learned that energy costs have risen 17 percent since the beginning of 2012. These rising costs are certainly motivational to large energy consumers to take reducing energy consumption seriously, or they risk negative consequences to their business profitability.
Talk back: how much of a limiting factor is power in your business? How deep is your understanding of the factors contributing to power consumption in your data center? Are you employing tools like Intel’s DCM to monitor and manage power consumption? Is it something you’re looking to improve on? Let us know in the comments section.