New Hewlett Packard division greens datacentres

HP was so impressed, it bought the company

Bill Kosik knows a thing or two about building efficient datacentres. As managing principal of consultancy EYP Mission Critical Facilities in Chicago, Kosik helped Hewlett Packard plan its global project to consolidate 85 datacenters into just six.

HP liked EYP's work so much that it decided to buy the consulting firm a year ago, transforming it into a new Critical Facilities Services division that helps HP clients plan the building of energy efficient datacentres or retrofit existing ones.

Financial institutions are particularly interested in reducing energy use, as datacentres can use 30% of an organisation's energy even while taking up just 5% of its square footage, Kosik says. Retrofitting existing datacentres is often worthwhile but extremely difficult, he adds.

"It's expensive and you can't turn the thing off. You're basically doing open heart surgery on a patient that's running around the block," Kosik says.

Going after low-hanging fruit can sometimes have a big impact, though. Kosik notes that many datacentres waste power simply by keeping the thermostat too low.

"In traditional datacentres, you walk into them and they're like refrigerators," he says. "That's really not the way to do it. If we raise that temperature five of 10 degrees you could save easily close to 40% on power for your cooling systems. Climate has a huge impact on datacentres."

Efficient power distribution systems are vital as well. More than 10% of a power supply can dissipate while it travels from the edge of a building to its destined target inside the datacentre, according to Kosik.

"It's not sexy stuff, but it makes a big difference," Kosik says. "Right now, there's huge momentum in the industry to push energy efficiency, but from a more pragmatic standpoint."

In many cases, retrofitting isn't feasible from a financial perspective, and it's better to build a datacentre from scratch. In addition to helping HP plan two new US-based datacentres as part of the 85-to-6 consolidation, EYP has provided consulting services to many of the world's top financial institutions, major internet and software companies, and high-performance computing centers.

A 1-megawatt data center's energy needs can reach US$2 million a year, Kosik says, adding that some of the bigger internet companies need datacentres of 20 to 30 megawatts.

Many datacentres are burdened with out-of-date servers, power supplies and building designs, notes Mark Linesch, vice president of marketing for an HP software division that focuses on managing and automating use of servers and storage.

"You could walk across a datacentre and see half-empty racks, and yet you're out of power," he says.

Besides using old equipment, datacentres often waste energy by over-provisioning power, giving a particular system more electricity than it really needs, according to Linesch.

HP this month announced new technologies that measure and control power and cooling systems, while placing limits on power used. The idea is to identify how much power is needed to run each server and set limits based on the actual usage.

More intelligent use of water for cooling systems also is important, Kosik says. For some large datacentres, getting enough water from public sources is challenging, so they build their own wells.

"We're working on projects lately where they have the power, but they don't have the water," Kosik says. "We're looking at on-site wells and running new water and sanitary lines that are basically big enough for a small city."

EYP has about 400 employees, including about 50 consultants and 250 people in design and engineering, Kosik says. Linesch says buying EYP was a natural choice for HP. The new division's consultants can provide a comprehensive assessment of a customer's datacentre, identifying areas where money can be saved by being more efficient. Then HP comes in with equipment, infrastructure designs and datacentre management software to help eliminate problem areas, he says.

Datacentres can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes even millions, by using more efficient servers and power supplies, and by not over-provisioning power to each server, Linesch says.

While the US Environmental Protection Agency is planning to develop an Energy Star rating for datacentres, a lack of a real benchmark today makes it hard for datacentre operators to judge their level of efficiency, Kosik says.

"Utilisation of power is probably worse than a lot of people think," he says.

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