Green pressure will force more efficient datacentres: Gartner

The analyst firm predicts new regulations will force energy-conservation measures

The forecast for datacentres isn’t good for the short term: they’re going to get hotter and a lot more cramped, according to Gartner analysts.

Increasing use of cheaper x86 chip-based servers has presented problems for datacentres, most of which haven’t been redesigned since the late 1990s tech boom, says Rakesh Kumar, a Gartner research vice president. He made the comments at Gartner’s recent Datacentre Technology Summit in London.

The number of server racks is increasing, Kumar says. Consequently, the amount of floor space in datacentres is decreasing, but their power and cooling requirements are rising.

More attention is being focused on the environmental impacts of running high-energy datacentres and moves by governments towards new legislation.

“It will come down to a balance between the power, the cooling and the floor space,” Kumar says. “What that means is legacy datacentres are obsolete.”

Gartner predicts that within 12 to 18 months, organisations will have to make major changes to accommodate the heating and cooling challenges that come with more processing power. Four years ago, a stand-alone server in a rack used 2 kilowatts of electricity. Today, a standard rack that is 50% to 80% made up of blade servers consumes between 15 kilowatts and 30 kilowatts per rack, Kumar says.

The cooling statistics complicate the power picture. It takes between 1.2 to 1.3 times the amount of energy a server consumes to cool it, Kumar says. ICT managers frequently can’t fill an entire rack because of the heat generated by the servers.

Floor cooling, where cool air is circulated under server racks, and air conditioning aren’t going to work anymore because the heat is too great, Kumar says. What’s more, the cool space beneath the servers in legacy datacentres becomes clogged with cables and wires and occasionally, other odd things that interfere.

“They’re thinking ‘Hey, there’s space under here. I’ll keep my beer in there,’” says Peter Hannaford, of American Power Conversion, which makes server cooling equipment. “We found this guy who had a Christmas tree under there.”

These obstacles contribute to higher energy costs. Gartner estimates that electricity costs could go from 10% or less of ICT budgets to 20-30% if left unchecked, Kumar says. Electricity costs have risen over the last year and will likely continue to rise, although the peak is unknown.

Fortunately, everyone from chip vendors to servers vendors and software makers have a stake in reducing energy and heat, Kumar says. The problem could ultimately limit the growth of ICT. A huge amount of investment is being made in finding solutions, either through new products or through new datacentre designs.

Governments also are paying increased attention to ICT. It’s possible that high-energy users could see higher taxes, or that ill-fitting legislation could be implemented, spurred by public demand for greener ICT, says Steve Prentice, vice president and chief of research at Gartner.

“They [the government] will rush something in that apparently does the job but does not address all the issues,” Prentice says. “We think it’s better to self-regulate.”

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