Green Grid’s lofty goals for efficient data centers

Cabling and networking vendors participate in the group that has its sights set high.

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Cabling and networking vendors participate in the group that has its sights set high.

by Patrick McLaughlin

The pervasive challenge of thermal management within data centers is a many-headed beast, and in recent years, the most frightening and dangerous head has been the energy consumption required by data-center thermal management.

The cycle is self-perpetuating. High-density servers, themselves significant energy consumers, generate hot spots in the clusters in which they are housed. Even with industry-standard hot-aisle/cold-aisle setups, some mechanical method(s) of cooling is required. Traditionally, those methods are also large energy consumers. So, the energy-eating computing equipment relies on energy-devouring cooling equipment to maintain operable temperatures.

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The Green Grid’s mission is to develop platform-neutral standards, measurement methods, processes and new technologies to improve energy efficient performance of global data centers.
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In addition to the struggles that data center managers face to find and maintain adequate thermal-management techniques, they are coming under increasing scrutiny because those management methods fly in the face of a global consciousness exemplified by the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to global-warming evangelist Al Gore. In its Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency, issued in August, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that data centers consumed approximately 61 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2006, or 1.5% of the nation’s total energy consumption, at a cost of approximately $4.5 billion.

The EPA issued that report in compliance with a mandate from Congress, for the specific reason of identifying opportunities for energy efficiency within data centers. The 130-page report includes results from exhaustive research, and includes recommendations for improved data center operations.

Going green

Meanwhile, as the federal government strives to find means to improve energy efficiency, a group of networking-industry vendors has embarked on its own initiative to achieve similar efficiencies. The Green Grid (www.thegreengrid.org) bills itself as “a consortium of information technology companies and professionals seeking to lower the overall consumption of power in data centers around the globe. The organization is chartered to develop meaningful, platform-neutral standards, measurement methods, processes and new technologies to improve energy efficient performance of global data centers.”

Tom Brey, a director of The Green Grid and power-management architect with IBM Systems and Technology Group, comments about why establishing efficiency metrics for energy consumption will pave a smoother road to energy efficiency: “Much like miles-per-gallon comparisons on vehicles allow the buyer to compare how well a car converts fuel (in gallons) into work (in miles), data center managers need a standard set of metrics to understand the efficiency of their data centers, improve the performance-per-watt of their IT equipment, and make smarter IT purchases.”

Brey continues, “In order to improve the energy efficiency of data centers, it is first necessary to measure the energy consumption of the entire data center and each of its constituent subsystems. Next, analysis tools are required to determine the contribution of each piece of equipment to the overall energy efficiency of the data center.” With these tools in hand, Brey adds, “the data center operator can assess the energy efficiency of the data center, determine those areas most in need of improvement, and validate the effectiveness of modifications once implemented.”

The Green Grid has made progress toward establishing specific metrics for such energy use. “For the short term, The Green Grid is proposing the use of Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) and Data Center Efficiency (DCE) metrics, which enable data center operators to quickly estimate the energy efficiency of their data centers, compare the results against other data centers, and determine if any energy-efficiency improvements need to be made,” Brey states.

“In the long-term, the Green Grid is developing metrics to measure data center productivity as well as efficiency metrics for all major power-consuming subsystems in the data center,” he adds. “To promote these metrics and drive greater data center energy efficiency for businesses around the world, The Green Grid will publish future white papers that provide detailed guidance on using these metrics. We will also continue to collaborate with organizations such as the EPA, ECMA [e c m a], and Climate Savers that promote a similar goal and vision.”

Green and growing

The organization has witnessed phenomenal growth over the past several months, which many see as a testament to the number of companies embracing the organization’s message. Brey notes, “The expertise for Green Grid initiatives will come from the extensive proficiency and knowledge of its members. In order to achieve its long-term objectives, The Green Grid needs industry participation. Members can attend and participate in general meetings of The Green Grid and vote in general meetings on all substantive issues, policy matters and official positions prior to final adoption by The Green Grid. They can review, comment, and submit proposed revisions or proposals for specifications, test suites, and design guidelines of The Green Grid. They can access documentation and technical support for specifications, test suites, and design guidelines of The Green Grid, as well as intellectual property licensing.”

Among the recognizable names from the cabling industry that have joined The Green Grid are Chatsworth Products Inc. (www.chatsworth.com) and Panduit Corp. (www. panduit.com).

“CPI understands that energy efficiency in data centers has become an extremely serious issue facing today’s technology providers,” explains Rich Jones, CPI’s director of global standards. “As a new contributor member of The Green Grid, CPI’s goal is to help maximize energy efficiency with minimal environmental impact. Working together with The Green Grid, we look forward to facilitating the development of creative solutions to advance metrics and standards for growing data center demands.”

Adds Panduit’s solutions development manager, Marc Naese, “From our perspective, power and cooling are major issues, and energy efficiency continuously is top-of-mind for customers.”

Previous articles in this publication have discussed the interrelationship of cabling, networking products, and other systems in a data center. On that topic, IBM’s Brey observes, “Electrical power needed to run today’s high-performance data center servers is only part of the problem. Non-IT devices that consume data center power include such things as transformers, uninterruptible power supplies, power wiring, fans, air conditioners, pumps, humidifiers, and lighting. Virtually all the electrical power feeding the data center ultimately ends up as heat. Unfortunately, according to Gartner (www. gartner.com), the vast majority of hardware devices have been designed to provide maximum functionality and performance with little regard for wider environmental issues.”

A life cycle approach

Brey adds, “A successful strategy for addressing the data center energy management challenge requires a multi- pronged approach that should be enforced throughout the life cycle of the data center. Energy improvements can be made from both an equipment-planning perspective and an operational-practices perspective for both IT and physical infrastructure devices-power, cooling, rack, security, fire suppression, and monitoring.”

As government-mandated initiatives to improve data center efficiency get underway, The Green Grid appears poised to lead the networking industry along that path.

Patrick McLaughlin is chief editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.

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