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Datacenter cooling solutions only a stop-gap

With power costs going up globally, improving cooling technologies is the least intrusive way to cut datacenter spend but IT managers should look at cost-cutting measures holistically, urges Emerson exec.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

As the cost of powering up and cooling down data centers rises, IT managers have to look beyond just improving their cooling technologies and choose to revamp their data centers in order to reap the full cost savings that technology offers today, an Emerson executive said.

Ross Hammond, managing director of Emerson Network Power Singapore, told ZDNet Asia in an interview Friday that the company is able to provide cooling solutions that will bring down power costs from 48 percent to about 35 percent. This, in turn, will boost computing power up to 65 percent from 52 percent.

"What we're doing is picking at the low-lying fruit by providing our cooling technologies to companies that are at their maximum datacenter compute capacity, but [which] need to buy time to plan out their roadmap for revamping the data center," he explained.

That said, he urged companies to look at the data center holistically when thinking about cutting down costs. Elaborating, Hammond gave the breakdown of energy consumption in a typical 5,000-square-feet data center, in which the total power consumed is 1,127 kilowatts (kW). Here, compute power takes up 588kW of energy, while power and cooling consume the other 539kW.

In order to reap maximum energy and cost savings, the Emerson executive said that reducing server power consumption would lead to a "cascade effect" that will allow companies to derive savings in the AC-DC, power distribution, UPS (uninterrupted power supply), cooling and transformer component levels, too.

"For every 1 watt (W) saved at the server level, companies stand to have cumulative savings of 2.84W in total data center energy consumption," Hammond noted.

By consolidating and virtualizing 20 percent of existing servers in the 5,000-square-feet data center, as well as replacing legacy server racks with higher-end blade systems, companies will be looking at energy savings of more than 50 percent, or 585kW, in their data centers, the executive said.

Emerson Director Chris Mandahl had brought up the cascade effect earlier when he was quoted in a 2008 ZDNet Asia article as saying that "energy savings begins at the server".

Risk-averse IT culture in S'pore
However, Hammond pointed out that datacenter managers in Singapore, where he has been based for the past three years, are "risk-averse and apprehensive about change".

He cited an example of a global bank with several offices in Singapore, which had a "moratorium on blade purchases"--a decision which its IT managers conceded resulted in a "less-than-robust" data center environment. In order to get the bank to improve its compute power, Emerson had to work with an unnamed IT vendor to push the financial institution "over the edge" to revamp its IT infrastructure, he said.

The bank has since replaced several legacy server racks with blades, which has given its operations a boost, he noted.

Hammond also stated that today's evolving technology will change the way data centers are built and managed, regardless of how risk-averse and apprehensive data center managers in Singapore are.

"Most new technologies are created in the U.S. and implemented in the offices there before being deployed in other regions, and Singapore will receive these new technologies whether it is ready or not," he said.

He declined to give a time frame on when the majority of businesses in the city-state will heed the winds of change and rethink their datacenter strategies, although he stated that some are already starting to do so. Multinational companies, in particular, will have to change as these policies are dictated by their head offices overseas, he added.

One example of IT heads beginning to embrace datacenter change is seen in the data center housed in the recently opened Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore, Hammond pointed out.

Together with IBM, Emerson built a high-density data center that will help the hospital achieve its return on investments (ROI) in 1.6 years, thus allowing it to reap more than eight years of energy savings given that a data center usually lasts for a decade, he said.

The Singapore government, through the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), announced in July that it would be launching several green datacenter initiatives. Among these, the country will be working on creating an isolated environment for businesses to testbed energy-efficient measures for their data centers, according to an earlier report.

SMBs need datacenter help
Emerson is also seeing its small and midsized business (SMB) customers start to loosen their purse strings after the recession, although spending is still not at the level of 2008's, Hammond said.

Traditionally a high-end market player, he noted that this segment currently represents 30 percent of the company's overall business in Singapore.

To increase business in this field, Hammond said his sales team will have to help SMBs overcome the problem of fitting in more compute power without increasing the amount of real estate that these companies are currently utilizing.

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