27 Sept 2018
Newly Cost-Conscious US Data Centres Embrace Energy-Saving
With electricity costs a growing issue for the world's expanding number of data centres, better value for money cooling systems, refurbished hardware and processors that do the work of multiple inferior systems are now on the agenda.
Up-time and reliability are of paramount importance for data-centre operators, with innumerable critical computer systems relying on uninterrupted service. This single-minded obsession with reliability has, however, become rather more tempered over recent years, according to industry professionals at San Antonio Data Center World, with data centres coming under growing pressure to reduce the cost of round-the-clock dependability.
Electricity is, perhaps, the biggest operating cost for power-hungry data centres, making energy conservation of growing importance in the sector. Highlighting this shift in focus, Victor McBride, Regional Sales Manager for Onicon Incorporated, a Florida-based sensor manufacturer, said: "Three years ago nobody was talking about energy efficiency. Back then, it was all about up-time first and safety. Now it is up-time first, then safety, but energy-conservation is in there too. That was never really mentioned before 2014."
Also noting a growing emphasis on cost savings was Thomas Bodnar, Vice President and General Manager of Mennekes, a New Jersey manufacturer of electrical connections. Assessing the thinking behind this shift in emphasis, he said: "Affordability is becoming ever more important. Everybody is looking for value and hoping to reduce their costs, while at the same time looking to increase their capacity."
Overall, many at the show had a focus on cooling systems of one kind or another, including the Condair Group, a Swiss specialist in evaporative cooling. Outlining the suitability of his company's technology for data centres, Caine Ruckstuhl, Condair's Director of Marketing, said: "Essentially, what we offer is an alternative to air conditioning. Evaporative cooling uses, on average, 30% less energy than a comparable air-conditioning system.
"As data centres are not really concerned about humidity levels, there is a double benefit to the use of our products. On account of the high electricity costs of running such servers, anywhere where cumulative savings can be made is always going to be welcome."
Ruckstuhl also maintained that adopting Condair's technology could result in tax savings in some of the more environmentally-aware jurisdictions, saying: "While there is an upfront capital cost for our equipment, depending on the location of the centre, there may be rebates to be had as our technology is recognised as environmentally-friendly. Particular benefits are to be had in California, largely on account of the local water shortages and the high electricity costs, although Texas and New York also both offer rebates."
Another cooling specialist attending the expo was California's Compu-Aire. According to Joe Perez, the company's Web and Marketing Specialist, data-centre operators are now focusing on smarter cooling systems, spurred by a growing need to cut down on energy usage.
Drilling down a little into the current mindset of such operators, he said: "The focus is now not just on the cooling, it's more about how the system can integrate with a communications network. How can I see it remotely? How can I see how effective it is? What areas am I spending more on and using more energy in?
"There is also a growing awareness of 'free cooling'. In some areas, you can minimise energy use just by exploiting the cooler outdoor temperature."
Reconditioned vs New
While reliability is clearly important for all data centres, it is more important in some sectors than others. For those operating in less critical sectors, further cost savings may be possible by using reconditioned rather than new equipment. Indeed, Houston-based Server Monkey's entire business is based on exploiting this particular niche.
Explaining why some data-centre customers are willing to use older equipment, Asset Account Manager Randy Wheeler said: "As any company can buy a refurbished server that comes with a full warranty on it, why would you want to buy new at a far higher price? Whether you use new or refurbished equipment, failure is always a possibility.
"As to who buys refurbished, it all depends on just how critical the system is. If it's an essential Department of Defense server or part of a banking network, then they will probably always buy brand new. In most other sectors, refurbished will probably be more than adequate."
Although many at the event noted the increasing emphasis on price, the data-centre industry, overall, was still seen as less price-sensitive than many other sectors. Looking to capitalise on this was Filter Buy, an air-filter company headquartered in Alabama, which has only recently started targeting data centres.
Outlining why it has refocused on this particular sector, Product Manager Pat McDavitt said: "A lot of data centres prioritise convenience and short lead times, whereas other markets strictly buy on price. Among the exhibitors at this event, we're somewhat unique in that we're not selling high-end technology – we're selling air filters at $4 apiece. That said, filters can become quite an expense when you have a high volume of them that continually needs changing."
While the vast majority of exhibitors at the event were suppliers offering the essentials required for data-centre operation – cooling systems, sensors, wiring connectors and so on – IBM had perhaps a surprisingly prominent presence. Even for the global tech giant, however, affordability was the key message.
Focusing on the company's new partnership with Nutanix, a California-based supplier of cloud-computing software, Bob Schuster, an IBM-certified IT Specialist, said: "Nutanix's focus is on the hyperconvergence of many applications into a small number of servers. So, what we've done is partner with Super Micro [the California-headquartered networking specialist] in the Open Power arena – Open Power being our processor chip – then took that and worked with Nutanix to provide an architecture solution for power-based applications.
"That gives customers more choice, especially those looking for cheaper ways to deploy things. One of the big things is that many of our clients really want to scale things and higher power can, in some cases on an individual core, do twice the workload, lowering the cost per computing unit.
"While, in a lot of cases, customers are looking at cost, simplicity is also a consideration and, sometimes, simplicity can actually lead to lower costs. Instead of having to go out and find a whole bunch of machines, sometimes you can simplify things – and save money – by just investing in one high-performance system. That's something we are now seeing a lot of."
Data Center World 2018 took place from 12-15 March at San Antonio's Henry B Gonzalez Convention Center.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, San Antonio