Monday, July 21, 2008

Postcards from the SF Datacenter Dynamics meeting

This was an awesome (and pretty intense) 1-day show in San Francisco this past Friday, covering all of the current IT operations and energy efficiency topics. It was one of a number of local/international shows run by the same Brits who also publish ZeroDowntime. And, it was one of their largest - they claim it drew ~ 800 folks, almost all of whom were directly involved in operating end-user datacenters. I definitely recommend attending one in your area.

I had great conversations with some of the authorities, and attended a handful of sessions that included the US DOE, a panel on datacenter econometrics, an end-user panel regarding datacenter automation, and some vendor presentations regarding upcoming technologies.

This was definitely the most newsworthy session (see my previous blog entry). The DOE has been piloting their DataCenter assessment tool, "DC-Pro" lately - and their primary assistant, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL), gave a walk-through of the tool, plus a roadmap of the overall goals and roll-out plans from now through 2011. I've now spoken with Bill Tschudi of LBNL a number of times; he's optimistic that the DOE will hit its goals for the tool, and for thousands of data center operators to make use of it in the next year or so.

IT Econometrics panel
Early in the morning there was also a decent panel covering topics of "green data center econometrics", essentially diving into a number of cost topics frequently overlooked in analyses. On the panel was Jon Haas of Intel, Mark Honeck of Quimonda (big DRAM manufacturer), and Winston Bumpus representing the Green Grid. Everyone agreed to "measure first", the same mantra that came out of the Uptime Institute earlier this year... in other words, measure power, temperatures, airflows and economics first, so to establish a baseline and a quantifiable goal for improvement. The other conclusion i'm happy they reached was to pursue projects that can get done quickly and show real benefits - pursue tactical initatives first.

Lastly (and by virtue of who was on the panel) came an interesting conclusion having to do with server-based power consumption: Memory is a *huge* power hog, made even worse by the move toward virtualization which typically requires a large memory upgrade for consolidating servers. One finding was that not all memory is created equal, and not all configurations consume equal power (16 1Gb SIMMs can consume four times as much power as 2 8Gb SIMMs)

On Datacenter Automation
This was a fantastic session given jointly by Cisco and OSIsoft. Cisco's primary speaker was in charge of their global lab compute capacity, and is trying to consolidate something like 200 separate labs around the globe. He clearly understood the organization differences between Facilities & IT operations, and the need to fill the gap - otherwise no useful efficiencies could be realized. Further, he predicted (if not asked to require) that IT automation systems (that govern compute, power and cooling resources) ultimately be integrated with building automation systems. In fact, he went a step further and posited that he'd like to see automation systems that interact globally. That means, he'd like to be able to dynamically push (compute) load to locations where capacity was economical -- a "follow-the-moon" strategy. This is counter to the traditional example whereby one pushes cooling to where the hot spots are; rather, push compute loads to where the cooling (and floorspace) is. This form of automation is right up my alley :) I'm happy to see other industry leaders as proponents.

I also had a chance to speak at length with Paul Marcoux, Cisco's VP of green engineering. (An interesting proposal from him here). He very much believes that the US will face carbon emissions capping/trading in the next few years... after it's incepted by the EC and others. Ergo, Cisco is taking the lead in comprehensive sustainability initiatives. And if you look at the number of sustainability organizations they're taking the lead in, you have to believe it.

Aside from the sponsor/exhibitors, there were very few vendors at the show, and lots of time to interact & network with local peers -- something that's invaluable, and that I heard that time and again from attendees who've been in the past. What was also great what that most (but not all) of their pitches were truly education, with a minority being "commercials" for product.

This is a great show for data center managers to attend; it's only one day out of your schedule, and because it visits 7 US cities, minimal travel is usually involved. They've also got an international perspective because they visit 20 other cities around the globe.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A look at DOE's new Datacenter Profiling Tool

This past Friday I got a good look at the DOE's new DC-Pro (Datacenter Profiler) tool, while at the San Francisco Datacenter Dynamics conference. The overview and demo was driven by Bill Tschudi and Paul Matthew of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) who've been instrumental in helping DOE construct it as part of their Save Energy Now program (the beta release was back in June). What's really unique is that DOE, LBNL and the EPA have all collaborated to help create this, the first time I've ever seen the government take the lead ahead of industry in creating such useful IP for the private sector. An excellent presentation about this initiative is at the top of this DOE Page.

This tool absolutely complements the excellent work being done by the EPA to create an Energy Star rating for datacenters (where your facility will get the lable if it falls into the top quartile of facilities for that year), as well as datacenter metrics work being done by the Uptime InstituteThe Green Grid (of which Cassatt is a member).

The DC-Pro tool has (and will have) a number of useful outputs:

  • Ability to help you track DCiE over time
  • Outline of end-use energy & resource breakouts
  • List of energy reduction potential (and idealized DCiE)
  • Specifically define areas for improvement (i.e. power sources, HVAC, IT, etc.)
What's initially clear after logging-in to the web-based tool is the amount of depth/thought that went into the questions it asks, with context-sensitive pull-down menus, etc. It asks for so much data in fact, that I absolutely recommend that users download the checklist in advance to collect all the data they'll need to gather). Just to illustrate the though that goes into it, this tool even cares about your geography and zip code, because the carbon content of electricity varies for different parts of the country. You'd better be prepared to team up with your IT and Facilities counterparts to complete the data collection.

But what's also great is that the tool generates immediately-useful data, such as your DCiE/PUE, and how it ranks your measures relative to others who have used the tool so you can compare with peers (all of which has been anonymized so that no proprietary data is revealed). In this way you can also track how improvements affect efficiency for yourself and against peer groups.

Bill also outlined the roadmap for the tool (the tool's not entirely complete yet), which is impressive and agressive. Plus, by 2011, they'd like to see
  • 3,000 data centers will have completed awareness training through classes or webcasts via DOE partners
  • 1,500 mid-tier and enterprise-class data centers will have applied the Assessment Protocols and Tools to improve data center energy efficiency by 25% (on average);
  • 200 enterprise-class data centers will have improved their energy efficiency by 50% (on average) via aggressive measures as accelerated virtualization, high-efficiency servers, high-efficiency power systems (e.g., fuel cells), optimized cooling, and combined heat and power systems
  • 200 Qualified Specialists will be certified to assist data centers
Part of the roadmap for the tool are individual components that will make recommendations for improvements. Most of these sections are due to be integrated in the September '08 timeframe, and include the Air Management, HVAC, Power Chain, and IT sections. DOE and LBNL are reaching-out to external industry groups for input on these sections. It's my belief that these components will be highly comprehensive, and look towards some highly-agressive options & technologies that datacenter operators can leverage.

The montra I hear from everyone I speak with is "measure, measure, measure" (you can't control what you can't measure). But finally, someone has developed a tool in which to dump your measurements, and with which to compute your absolute and relative progress in becoming more energy-efficient.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is an "internal" cloud an oxymoron?

By definition, "the cloud" lies external to the enterprise data center. And it's got great properties: in an Infrastructure-as-a-Service example, per-CPU operating costs are on the order of $800/year (see Amazon's EC2 price list), whereas CPU operating costs are typically $3k-$5k/year in the average data center.

It seems to me that the industry has become overly-fixated on hosted clouds (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS etc.) that are run by third parties which have all of those nice economies-of-scale.

But what about implementing an "Internal" cloud inside of corporate data centers? John Foley of InformationWeek just raised this question in talking about Elastra.
[they are] working on a version of Cloud Server for data center VMware environments, or what it refers to as "private clouds." That's an oxymoron since cloud computing, by definition, happens outside of the corporate data center, but it's the technology that's important here, not the semantics."
Semantics aside, what properties would an ideal "internal" cloud have? Clearly the same economics as a "traditional" cloud, but with some added benefits to avoid the current pitfalls of external clouds. The improved properties include --
  • Should work with existing physical & virtual resources in the data center (heterogeneous platforms & O/S's)
  • Should let you specify whether your apps are virtualized or not (but either way, provide capacity-on-demand)
  • Wouldn't require that sensitive data be hosted outside the enterprise; it would maintain internal auditability
  • Ought to adhere to internal security and configuration management processes
  • Would not disrupt existing software architectures
  • Would allow you to add additional capacity (compute resources) on-the-fly
  • Could be segregated to support both production & development environments
  • Would provide internal metering & billing for internal users and business units
Maybe an "internal cloud" needs a new name, but what it represents is essentially the basis of Utility Computing. Check out the Cloudy Times blog, that also references the potential of an Internal Cloud.

I'm guessing that, as cloud computing gains steam, IT organizations will want the same properties internally - through implementing an "internal" cloud leveraging utility computing infrastructure.

ProductionScale recently ruminated on this topic (calling it a private cloud, instead of internal):
"What is private cloud computing? To make a non-technical analogy, Private Cloud Computing is a little like owning your own car instead of using a rental car that you share with others others and that someone else owns for your automobile and transportation needs. Rental cars haven't completely replaced personal automobile ownership for many obvious reasons. Public Cloud Services will not likely replace dedicated private servers either and will likely drive adoption of private cloud computing".
Working for Cassatt, I'm biased toward believing that a market for Internal Cloud infrastructure providers will emerge.... and potentially help enterprises dovetail their internal clouds with public clouds. Any other opinions?