Monthly Archives: January 2012

10 Tips to Building a Better Data Centre

What could be easier?  Invite a few suppliers to visit, review the space, get them to respond to an ITT and 12-15 months later you’ll have your brand new, highly efficient, ‘free air’ cooling and waste heat recycling data centre up and running and winning awards.

Unfortunately, while that may be a path for the lucky, rich few organisations where money is no obstacle, most of the rest of us have a limited budget, limited space to work with and a limited timeline to deliver in.

If you’re looking to enhance the efficiency of your data centre or create capacity from ‘nothing’ in order to prevent power issues and space concerns, then here are ten tips to consider:

  1. Do you have to rebuild at all?  There are many best practices that can be employed that provide fantastic returns with limited or no outlay bar some technical resource.  Take a look at the EU Code of Conduct for Data Centres.  The CoC is voluntary, but signing up to it is a commitment that encourages you to follow the best practices and report on the results in data terms back to the Commission.  Reporting data is a requirement for achieving “Participant” status, but is also a valuable exercise to help you squeeze further enhancements out of your data centre facilities.
  2. Virtualise and consolidate.  Sadly, despite one of the latest high-end computer servers being a costly investment that loses value very rapidly over 3-5 years, many organisations are still buying one(or more) physical machines per business application.  This would explain why the average utilisation of servers is still languishing at 6-7% (according to Gartner).  Modern technology means there is no need to do this and virtualisation using VMWare or Solaris Containers can shrink the physical footprint of your data centre by up to 70%, while making the most of your physical tin by pushing utilisation levels up.
  3. Rack positioning and containment.  This is one of those low-cost best practises that can reap big benefits.  Ensure your aisles are in a hot/cold aisle arrangement and then contain either the hot aisle or the cold aisle.  Containment can be rigid (i.e expensive) or made of plastic curtains (much cheaper) – but both equally as effective.  The hot aisle is easier as you don’t have to worry about pressure differences so much.  While you’re at it – if you use an underfloor plenum and static pressure to provide cold air to the aisles, make sure you have as many gridded tiles as you need in the cold aisle only and use brush grommets to block where cables go into the floor.  Make sure all your racks employ blanking plates where gaps between servers exist.  Check air flows with CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) if you have the money or using an infra-red camera with a piece of paper to check air flow direction is almost as useful in the right hands.
  4. Change your cooling setup.  In older data centres, cooling can take up to 120% of the amount of electricity required to power the IT load.  Most older units of the belt-driven variety are expensive to maintain and run.  For a quick fix, most CRAC/CRAH (Computer Room Air Conditioning / Handling) units can be made more efficient by adding EC-fans.  The most efficient method and that which has demonstrated excellent ROI again and again is swapping them out for ‘free air’ units.  Often these can pay back within 18 months.
  5. Another large loss of efficiency is the electrical subsystem.  Modern UPSs are highly efficient at low loads as well as when fully loaded.  If you use a 2N or 2N+1 redundant arrangement, you are unlikely to run the UPS more than half load and so this will be important.  Buy only as much capacity as you need (modular UPSs are good for this) and ensure that you run with all three phases equally balanced.
  6. Zoning the data centre.  Some areas of your data centre may be high density and high heat output – put these racks together and apply a suitable cooling system directly to them.  For the rest, keep them in areas where less aggressive cooling is needed so that less power is used overall.
  7. Keep UPSs and batteries out of your data centre and in their own room.  Here you can keep them at their optimal temperature range without limiting what you do in the data centre.
  8. Turn up the dry bulb inlet temperature for your servers.  ASHRAE and ETSI recommend allowable ranges of temperatures for systems that exceed 30 degrees Centigrade.  Do this incrementally and keep your eye on temperature differences across the whole data centre, but it has been estimated that one degree increase in inlet temperature can contribute up to 4% of savings on your power bill.
  9. Meter, Monitor, Manage and Maintain.  My four ‘M’s of data centre management.  Meter your power supplies so that you know at a minimum what total power comes into your facility, and where it gets divided up with respect to IT Load and ancillary systems such as lighting, UPS, etc.  Monitor trends of energy usage – look for anomalies and Manage those out quickly and effectively to assure continued efficiency.  Finally, Maintain your equipment to manufacturer-recommended levels.  Blocked filters impair efficiencies and can cause the lifespan of computer equipment to shorten.
  10. If you do decide to rebuild.  Get some training on data centre best practices from an accredited provider.  Invite suppliers to innovate using the constraints and requirements set out in your Invitation To Tender (ITT).  Get professional electrical and mechanical advice to challenge supplier responses.  Once you’ve picked a winner – build a relationship based on partnership & trust and involve all key stakeholders in your organisation at every important turn in the project.  Create some realistic targets for the supplier to meet and hold back some payment until they meet them.

Relaunched Green ICT Blog

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the new-look RARE-IDC Blog at the University of Hertfordshire.

I’ve been working on quite a few initiatives recently in the data centres that I want to share with you, so keep an eye out for those over the next few weeks.  Please feel free to email me and/or leave comments on my postings to let me know if you find anything here interesting or useful – it’s always good to get feedback.

More Sustainable ICT projects are in the pipeline too, so you can look forward to hearing how we get on with those.  If all goes to plan, some really interesting work could be shaping up here that I want to ensure reaches the widest possible audience, not just in the HE/FE sector but in the ICT industry as a whole.

The Green Agenda may have slipped a bit in people’s minds due to the ongoing difficult economic situation, but a lot of sustainability efforts lead to savings in the use of power and have excellent ROIs.  So I hope you’ll also continue your efforts this year and let me know how you get on too.

Steve Bowes-Phipps MBCS CDCDP