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Playing Jenga in the data centre

By Andrew Des’Ascoyne.

Energy consumption has become a priority focus for any IT manager. From escalating costs to carbon footprint concerns, gaining insight into power utilization is key. But organizations are overlooking the fast rising business risk associated with power overloads. With overstretched IT teams delivering more innovation and change than ever, data centre design creep is endemic. The result? The vast majority of disaster recovery invocations in the past year were power related.

Companies cannot afford to play Jenga with their IT resources; blithely hoping that each new server can be added without, finally, tripping the circuit breaker and taking out the whole data centre. It is time to leverage the insight provided by power monitoring tools and understand just how power is being used across the infrastructure.

With proactive, predictive analysis based on real time power monitoring, organizations can radically reduce the risk of power related incidents and undertake highly effective power based load balancing to maximise performance and minimise energy consumption across the data centre.

Design creep
Every IT Manager knows the importance of effectively managing data centre power consumption. From the drive to reduce power usage efficiency (PUE) ratings to corporate CSR pledges, the need to reduce energy related expenditure and address Energy Efficiency Scheme CRC requirements, data centre power consumption is now centre stage. Organizations are increasingly exploring innovative real-time power monitoring and metering tools to assess energy consumption and highlight areas for improvement – from introducing new cooling technologies to creating more efficient data centre design.

But while power consumption is a serious issue – and a serious cost – many organizations are simply too tightly stretched to impose control over power usage in the data centre to minimise overload and ensure the underlying power resources are used effectively and safely. As a result, the most beautifully designed data centre can descend into chaos within a matter of months.

New servers are added onto racks, overloading one phase coming into the server room and creating an imbalance between phases; or old servers are swapped for newer models without considering the best location on a power, as well as space, utilisation perspective. Yes, the new server might be physically smaller than the old one, which means, in theory, it could be repositioned to maximise space – but is the underlying power infrastructure adequate? And what about the air conditioning: although a new server may demand less power for equivalent processing capability, it will typically generate more heat than the old kit, creating a situation where the existing air conditioning is not sufficient for the new heat footprint.

Power led invocation
The result of this lack of understanding or forethought is an increasingly devastating effect on business. According to data from SunGard Availability Services, some 27 percent of invocations in 2010 were power related. Indeed the trend in power related incidents has increased steadily – while it has been listed as a contributor for invocation in the last 15 consecutive years, it appeared as the main reason for invocation in 2010.

Add to that the consideration that 80 percent of data centres do not have adequate or, in some cases, any back-up power generation facility, and the potential financial cost of such disruption is significant. A CA Technologies’ study found that €17 billion in revenue is being lost in each year in the time taken to recover from unplanned IT downtime. The study also comments that ‘post-downtime’ there is an additional delay during which time data is still being recovered and that during the post-outage period, company revenue generation is still severely hampered, down by an average of 25 percent.

Predictive model
So what are the options? Measuring and understanding power consumption is key to reducing power related disruption; minimising the risk of overload through changes to planned maintenance, for example, and using real time alerts to ensure problems are rapidly and proactively addressed before downtime occurs. By understanding the way power is used within the data centre 24x7, organizations can ensure proactive load balancing activity that ensures consumption is well distributed - preventing the problems caused by overload can then become a standard procedure.

Of course, given the nature of IT resources, undertaking this process in-house is probably not realistic. Gaining insight into power consumption and the implications of design change needs to be made easy: organizations simply do not have the time, expertise or, to be frank, desire to manually consolidate meter readings from multiple power distribution units (PDU) to gain a complete overview. By linking real time monitoring with a single view of the entire data centre’s power utilisation, backed up with simple weekly and monthly reports that highlight both risks and opportunities for improvement, organizations have immediate insight into power utilisation and load balance. With this insight an organization can begin to impose greater control and ensure staff do not simply use the nearest plug or PDU but understand the dangers of power overload and the value of load balancing, further reducing the risk of data centre design creep.

Conclusion
Balancing thin resources and the business demand for constant change, the vast majority of IT managers know that it is just a matter of time before a new development – either long term planned or to resolve an immediate problem – will be a step too far; the piece of Jenga that trips the circuit and takes down an entire data centre. Is it really worth either the risk or the ever present stress when, by taking a proactive approach, it is possible to both understand power usage and, critically, predict the impact of data centre change?

Those organizations that are simply monitoring the data centre to check energy consumption figures are missing a trick and seriously overlooking the risks associated with power failure. Metering is becoming a fundamental component of data centre design and performance but organizations need to proactively use this information to minimise IT risk as well as improve efficiency.

Author
Andrew Des’Ascoyne is a director of Spook Limited.

•Date: 23rd November 2011 • Region: UK/World •Type: Article • Topic: Data centres/centers

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