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Switch on to new power thinking

Mahesh Sharma (via SMH) | June 12, 2013
Data centre managers are putting their revenues at risk by persisting with old power management techniques.

Power up: Businesses can benefit from installing newer power distribution methods.
Power up: Businesses can benefit from installing newer power distribution methods.

Data centre managers are putting their revenues at risk by persisting with old power management techniques.

Most data centres still use old methods, such as power whip cabled from distribution boards, to deliver electricity to client machines, according to Charles Nolan, co-founder of consulting firm DifferenceIT.

"While all the computer power is modernised with virtualisation and cloud self-provisioning, it still takes DC managers days to individually re-balance power - rack by rack," Nolan said.

A survey of 300 CIOs by IDC Australia on behalf data centre landlord NextDC found third-party data centre providers couldn't supply enough power, or scale this resource, for their needs. IDC said the average Australian data centre was 18 years old and full of pockets of "stranded power" that was under-utilised and created "hotspots that risk system failures".

"The research validates anecdotal evidence found by IDC that uncovered large shortcomings in many third-party data centre providers," IDC Australia research head Matthew Oostveen wrote in the report.

"Today, many data centres have over-provisioned or ineffectively provisioned their power and cooling, resulting in stranded power that does not make full use of the data centre capacity, thus creating hotspots that risk system failures."

The report said power, cooling, weight and space posed a cocktail of challenges for data centre operators.

It said the average number of servers per rack has increased over 50 per cent since 2000, creating challenges for energy and thermal management. 

Older data centre facilities were not designed to manage the power demands of modern servers used for virtualisation and cloud computing, according to NextDC CEO Craig Scroggie.

"Many existing data centres are older facilities that were built during a time where data storage and computers and their associated power needs were significantly less," Scroggie said.

The problem may not be the exclusive domain of older data centres, however, with reports this week that extreme cooling conditions caused a cloud to be formed and rain to wet equipment inside a Facebook data centre in 2011.

DifferenceIT's Nolan said the power pocket issue can be easily solved by adopting a system similar to track lighting, where light fixtures are attached to a continuous track carrying electricity.

In his previous role as the delivery services manager at the University of NSW, Nolan installed overhead power distribution rails between two rows of server racks. They were connected directly to the mains distribution boards.

"Re-allocating load, either single or three phase, is as easy as changing the tap unit type, or adding another tap unit. All during prime hours, in less than a minute, and safely by a non-electrician," he said.

 

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