Storage vendors, users forced to be energy-conscious

News item in local paper: Big New England electric utility seeks rate increase of 13.1 percent. The reasons, unfortunately, are many, according to the report. They include rate increases from outside suppliers, wholesale price increases for natural gas and federal government policy that somehow encourages investment in new power plants.

Server vendors have been leading the way recently with energy-efficiency messages. Now we're about to see storage vendors join the chorus. Storage administrators, if they aren't already, will become very conscious of the electricity consumed and heat generated by legions of spinning disks because storage vendors will make it a competitive issue.

How Back to the Future-ish this all is. Earlier this year, I witnessed a demonstration of one server vendor's approach to cooling rack 'em, stack 'em bladed server farms. Killer fans (seriously). These fans generated hurricane-force wind. There were only two problems that I could see: First, all the fans did was send the heat somewhere else for some other piece of equipment to deal with, like a chiller, and second, the vendor would have to ship a set of noise-canceling headphones with every box. Guys, haven't we been here before? I seem to remember that water cooling was once thought to be a saner way to do this.

While I don't think we'll see water-cooled disk farms any time soon, we will see storage vendors getting very kilowatt/hour-conscious. Not only will they talk about the physics of the issue; they also may suggest ways to reduce the number of I/Os going to spinning disk -- assuming that doing so will have a significant effect on power consumption. That's an interesting approach that, oddly enough, might cut both ways in that one way to reduce disk I/Os would be to send them someone else's solid state disk or power-managed disk.

Suggestion for storage administrators: For help with energy management, search the archives for papers written by past IT administrators on this subject. Start with organizations like the Computer Measurement Group and AFCOM, and go back at least 10 years.

John Webster is senior analyst and founder of research firm Data Mobility Group. He is also the author of numerous articles and white papers on a wide range of topics and is the co-author of the book Inescapable Data: Harnessing the Power of Convergence (IBM Press, 2005). Webster can be reached at jwebster@datamobilitygroup.com.

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