Making Data Centers’ Power Usage Visible

By Michael Vizard

The things that get measured, it’s said, are the things that get done. The problem with power consumption in the data center is that most IT organizations don’t have a lot of visibility into how much power is being consumed by a particular product or application inside the data center.

Worse yet, IT organizations usually don’t see the data center’s electric bill because its power consumption is included in the organization’s overall electric bill.

That was the situation in which Terry Dale, vice president of infrastructure at ARC Productions, an animation and visual effects company, was coping with when he decided to reduce the company’s electric bill. The bill itself went to the data center’s landlord, which charged ARC Productions a flat fee for electricity based on the amount of power the Canadian company had consumed the previous year. At the end to the year, ARC Productions and the landlord would settle the difference between the amount paid and the actual amount of power consumed.

Once Dale secured the landlord’s cooperation, he turned to TSO Logic, a provider of data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software that enables an IT organization to track energy consumption down to the level of specific applications.

The challenge, says Dale, was finding a method of powering up and down the servers in a way that wouldn’t affect the company’s animation artists, programmers and producers.

“If we changed the way they needed to work, they would have pulled my nose off,” says Dale.

To avoid that fate, Dale integrated TSO Logic’s Metric software with the rendering software that ARC Productions uses to automate the scheduling of jobs across 650 servers. The end result has been a 50 percent reduction in power consumption, but also better capacity planning that makes the entire data center more efficient.

Best of all, says Dale, everything was accomplished in a way that didn’t impact how the organization worked.

“The whole effort was not only phenomenally successful,” says Dale, “it was phenomenally transparent.”

Like many organizations that have purchased more and more x86 servers as the overall data center environment expands, the cost of operating the data center has also increased significantly.

Joe Clabby, president of IT research firm Clabby Analytics, says a large part of the problem with increasing awareness about power consumption in data centers is that IT executives rarely see the electric bill or are held accountable for data center power consumption.

“Only the CFO sees it all when the bill for IT and facilities lands on his desk,” says Clabby.

Part of the issue is that the cost of electricity varies widely by region. While electricity costs are high in places like California and New York, there is little or no financial pressure to cut power consumption in places where electricity is relatively inexpensive. As a result, while organizations such as The Green Grid are making data center power usage a major issue, it’s usually organizations such as eBay that run their business operations on thousands of servers that have the most to gain by reducing power consumption.

Of course, there is a worldwide movement to reduce energy consumption as part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions. However, while such environmental concerns have had an impact in Europe, reducing data center power consumption has not yet become a priority in the U.S. and many other countries.

But for IT organizations whose electricity costs have an impact on the bottom line, investing some time and effort on energy management can clearly generate significant financial returns.

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