Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Energy Management is a systems problem

Point-optimization alone will not fully minimize a data center's energy consumption. Rather, optimization is a "systems" problem, where all individual components, and their dynamics, have to be optimized together and usually continuously.

Probably the leading company in this space -- as-of today -- is Cisco. They recently announced plans to launch "Energywise" software for certain lines of switches. This software will intelligently manage energy consumption of devices, much the way laptops shut down subsystems when on battery, and the way PC power consumption is managed by companies like Verdiem and 1E. Driving this at Cisco are leaders like Paul Marcoux, who's been focused on these efforts for years. Others driving these moves include Robert Aldrich, also at Cisco, and frequent evangelist/blogger

Now granted, these solutions are "point" solutions... But Cisco went a step further today by acquiring privately-held Richards-Zeta. Take a gander:
Richards-Zeta's intelligent middleware transforms building operational data into an IT-friendly format that easily integrates with existing applications. Its scalable, open platform enables the convergence of building systems onto an IP network. This integrated solution provides more effective management of energy consumption across an organization.

Richards-Zeta's technologies will support innovative Cisco customer solutions such as Cisco Connected Real Estate and Cisco EnergyWise. EnergyWise, launched today in Barcelona, Spain, is a technology for Cisco Catalyst Switches that proactively measures, reports and reduces the energy consumption of IP devices such as phones, laptops and access points. Ultimately, Richards-Zeta's technology is expected to work together with EnergyWise and industry partner solutions to enable the management of power consumption for building and IT infrastructure.
This is clearly a play at looking at measuring and optimizing the data center's power & cooling as a system embedded in the larger building/facility.

The other big players in this game, but with much less experience in IT, are APC/Schneider Electric, as well as Emerson -- both known for their dominance in power distribution and cooling, respectively. But each has made bold moves into the others' space over the past years. For example, Aperture (a leader in data center measurement software) was acquired by Emerson last year. And APC is expanding its Infrastruxure line of cooling, enclosure and power management systems. Finally, look for advanced pure-play measurement, monitoring and analysis players like SynapSense to be cutting even more deals as the race to measure and control data center efficiency heats up.

Now, what's the holy grail? Conversations I've had with many of these vendors have yielded a number of practical examples:
  • As data center compute load falls (e.g. during evenings & weekends) servers are automatically consolidated, and unused machines are powered-down or hibernated. In concert, CRAC units, chillers and PDUs are also shut-down or re-configured to save power
  • When a "hot spot" in a data center is detected, either point-cooling is activated, or some of he workload is physically migrated to a server in a cooler area elsewhere in the data center
  • If one electric phase of power on a PDU is out-of-balance (drawing too much current) workloads running on servers on that phase can be migrated to servers on a different phase
  • Should a facility's power or cooling system partially fail, compute workloads can be temporarily minimized or migrated elsewhere temporarily
While most of these visions are pretty-well beyond what data center managers are worrying about today, I would expect to see products begin to evolve in this direction, particularly for larger facilities. I would also expect to see some blurring of the lines (as is already happening) between traditional facilities management firms and IT operations/management firms. They are finding an important interrelationship between IT operations and building facilities organizations/buyers -- and the important systems interrelationships as well.

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