Roundtable: Cloud, virtualisation put power management back in the spotlight

Highlights from Computerworld's power management roundtable, sponsored by Eaton

The proliferation of virtualisation technologies, cloud computing models and the requirement to run more efficient and cost-effective data centres has put power management in the frame for many organisations.

This was the general consensus among attendees at Computerworld’s recent “Power Management in the Cloud” roundtable, sponsored by Eaton.

“When power management was on the table years ago, it was all about business process and efficiency,” says one attendee. “I think now with [media coverage] about the cost of power and certainly conserving energy to [stop] climate change, a lot of people are thinking about it.”

Attendees agreed that the rapid uptake of virtualisation and cloud computing models has the potential to drive power costs down.

“Saving power is perhaps one of the biggest drivers to move to virtualisation technology as it reduces an organisation’s footprint in the data centre,” said one particpant in the roundtable.

“[We] have gone down the virtualisation path and power may be one of the costs that we need to reduce,” he says. “However, with cloud computing, you don’t actually get rid of that cost because it is part of your [outsource] contract.”

Johan Sulaiman, head of IT, Asia-Pacific at L.E.K. Consulting, says that by adopting a cloud model, you are transferring the power costs from yourself to the data centre.

“You’re hoping that the data centre [provider] will provide more efficiency in terms of power consumption and overall power cost. We assume that we will save money on power by moving to the cloud compared to keeping infrastructure in-house but without hard data, we don’t really know.”

Power equation is all about contracts

For Catholic Education Office’s CTO Milton Scott, the power conversation in the data centre “is all about contracts.”

“The way contracts are created, each [server] rack has an amount of power available to it and this determines the amount of equipment that can be placed into these racks,” he says.

“The number of rack units you need is less important than the power available per rack because of the hardware efficiency. ”

“A data centre service provider we were using said to us, ‘Do you realise that you are X amps over your current contract?” he adds.

“We were guaranteed a certain amount of power in addition to what we had negotiated and we would get it in the future.”

According to Scott, five years went by and the data centre provider sold the power to someone else and it never became available.

“We then had to negotiate a new contract,” he says.

The move to a cloud computing model has made it easier to monitor operational – and of course power costs – with a fixed monthly fee for service.

“All the things we used to worry about such as the density of physical servers and fans to cool these systems, have gone out the window now when we place services in the cloud,” he says.

“It’s an easy equation; you can create an entire service and say the cost per head is ‘x’ rather than evaluating the cost – counting on power, the server and the person that has to manage this equipment to arrive at a cost per person.”

More data centres fuel need for power

Many data centres are being built in Australia and around the world to feed an increasing hunger for computing power. Although these large data centres are energy-efficient, the sheer number of them means they are consuming a lot of power and having an impact on the environment, says Michael Mallia, senior product line manager, power quality, Asia Pacific at Eaton.

“The number of data centres is increasing so rapidly that we are seeing the volume of PC-style uninterruptable power supplies dropping in favour of models that that are suitable for big data centres,” he says.

“Data centres today represent around 5 per cent of the energy consumption of the world. It’s a balancing act – servers are more efficient but we are using more equipment. We need to make sure we are sizing power infrastructure correctly.”

Using technology to reduce power costs

Conserving energy to keep a lid on power costs is a priority for one roundtable attendee.

The attendee said his company is rolling out infrared detection technology that automatically switches off services, such as a cooling and lighting systems, if there hasn’t been activity in a room for a particular period of time.

“Using technology to monitor core business functions is highly applicable to us because energy costs are skyrocketing,” he says.

For his organisation, IT infrastructure is only responsible for around half a per cent of its total energy consumption.

“When we are talking about machines as a big as a room, it pales in comparison,” he says.

“Having said that we have a responsible business initiative globally to meet industry standards in relation to energy consumption across the organisation so the amount of energy consumed by our IT systems still needs to be monitored,” he says.

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