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Facilities, IT and Data Center Power

By George Spafford

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Organizations are under pressure to reduce their environmental impacts. One metric being scrutinized is the amount of Green House Gasses (GHGs) being released into the atmosphere. At first blush this would not seem relevant to data centers, but when you stop and look at their explosive growth, this focus becomes understandable.

In 2006, an EPA report identified that U.S. data centers consumed 1.5% of all power generated (that was 61 billion kilowatt hours!) and that consumption was expected to grow at 12% annually. The EPA estimated that at that rate of growth, at least 10 new power-generation facilities would be needed by 2011.

All that power comes at an environmental cost – approximately 48% of generation, the largest percentage, comes from coal. With the burning of the coal comes GHGs, notably carbon dioxide, that are released into the atmosphere. Concerns over global warming being exacerbated by human activities will likely lead to regulation of GHG emissions. In turn, organizations will be forced to make economic decisions around buying carbon credits, taking action to reduce emissions and so forth.

The fact that data centers consume so much power will likely cause increased scrutiny of their actions in the not so distant future. This will cause pressure to reduce power consumption. The environmental concern intersects with a number of other forces at play as well – notably the ever present need to cut costs and the constraints present in many data centers in terms of how much power and cooling they can accommodate. If these latter two constraints are not addressed, then a data center will not be able to add hardware to support the business.

All of this background information is given for a reason – an organization needs to better manage data center power consumption. Traditionally, electric power utilization has not been an area that the Board or senior management focused on. Indeed, even today most CIOs have no idea what the data center monthly electric costs are.

CIO accountability

If we look at large enterprises, over the years two separate silo’d organizations have arisen – IT and facilities. IT is tasked with creating and protecting value through IT services. As such, they manage development, purchasing of technology, implementation of hardware, ongoing operations and so forth.

The facilities team often reports up through a corporate real estate or property management group. As a shared service, the facilities team, or a specific data center facilities group, is tasked with providing power and cooling to the data center. The facilities team gets the utility bills, handles maintenance contracts relating to the buildings and mechanicals, service upgrades, and so forth.

The challenge is that the two groups don’t necessarily have the same objectives and don’t always work together to benefit the overall entity. For example, if IT is poor at forecasting demand and the facilities team tries to compensate by making worst-case estimates, then poor utilization of the power and cooling infrastructure may result. This is problematic because as utilization decreases, energy efficiency decreases as well.

Instead, to combat the rising demand for power while supporting the business, these two groups must work together. Only through careful planning and execution can capacity be properly planned and delivered in a manner that improves both energy and cooling. To facilitate coordination, there are two potential approaches to consider – structural change and objective alignment.

The first approach is for the Board and senior management to hold the CIO accountable for reductions in energy consumption in the data center. As part of this, the facilities engineering team is re-tasked to report to the CIO. This then gives the CIO both the accountability and means to better manage both supply and demand. The premise is that by consolidating accountability power will be better managed.The second approach is to not change the reporting structure but to instead review how goals and objectives are set and linked in regards to power. This approach exists because changing the reporting structure isn’t always an option and not always effective either. Instead, the organization’s Green goals are mapped to IT objectives, that are then mapped to objectives for specific teams. The relationships are mapped and then the needs can be formally documented in service level agreements (SLAs) to the business and operating level agreements (OLAs) between IT functions and facilities.

Either approach can be dramatically enhanced by the implementation of a Green IT process tasked with ensuring that the Green goals of the organization and objectives in business units are properly understood and supported by IT and that continuous improvement is being pursued.

Regardless of approach, IT and facilities need to be better integrated. The soft skills of team building, communication and so on are critical. Formal mandates alone can only go so far and then the need for leadership and cultural changes comes to the fore. Neither the structural change nor objective mapping approaches matter if people choose to ignore them and go back to business as usual.

To reinforce the change common metrics should be identified, generated and reviewed. These include metrics such as Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), Data Center infrastructure Efficiency (DCiE) and changes to the monthly and annual electricity expenditures. etc. Not only should these metrics be reviewed but also integrated into performance and bonus reviews of staff.

In closing, with the pressures to reduce costs and minimize the environmental impacts of data centers, the facilities and IT groups must work together to reduce power demands. Depending on the circumstances, management may elect to either change the reporting structure and have the data center facilities group report to the CIO or objectives need to be aligned and the relevant SLAs and OLAs put in place. The way business is conducted must fundamentally support the organization’s green goals and this will require cultural change. The data center facilities and IT organizations have much they can share and work on to better the organization for everyone.

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Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency: Public Law 109-431. US EPA. August 2, 2007

Electronic Power Monthly Summary. US DOE. December 2008.

An overview of the Green IT process is presented in my book and briefly covered in a recent Jupitermedia webinar.

The Green Grid Data Center Power Efficiency Metrics: PUE AND DCiE. TheGreenGrid.com.