Top 10 Ways to Improve Power Performance in Your Datacenter

It's time to get serious about improving performance in the datacenter . A Gartner Inc. report released this week predicts that in the next five years, most U.S. enterprise datacenters can expect to spend as much on energy as they do on hardware infrastructure. By 2011, Gartner analysts predict that 70 percent of datacenters will experience disruptions related to energy consumption and the associated costs.

In 2006, servers and datacenters in the U.S. already accounted for 61 billion kilowatt-hours, approximately 1.5 percent of the nation's electrical usage, according to the "EPA Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency ," published in August 2007.

Current research is paving the way for major changes. Organizations are beginning to take a serious look at standards that might regulate power usage in the datacenter. Last year, a consortium of IT companies founded The Green Grid, an organization seeking to dramatically raise the energy efficiency of datacenters. Now, the consortium is working with the U.S. Department of Energy and other government organizations to assess current energy usage metrics and develop a set of benchmarks and standards for the industry.

These groups won't have a list of best practices until the end of the year, but you don't have to wait to improve the performance of your datacenter. These simple steps will help you boost your power efficiency and cut your costs:

  1. Set benchmarks for performance — You don't have to wait for the EPA, The Green Grid or the U.S. Department of Energy to hand you a list of new benchmarks. Start measuring the loadline of your servers over the coming weeks and months and making calculations. Learn what metrics you need for your specific architecture, and use the right ones to assess your energy usage and to make improvements. When standards do come out, you'll already be compliant.
  2. Switch to energy-efficient lighting — It's not just the server racks and air conditioners pulling energy in your datacenter. Keeping the lights on will raise the temperature in the server room, making the cooling systems work harder to compensate. By using energy-efficient lights, or motion-sensitive lights that won't come on until you need them, you can easily cut down your power and costs.
  3. Improve your archiving procedures — First, conduct backups after hours or when the server traffic is low, so as not to impede your staff's efficiency connecting with the servers. Additionally, your backup platform should allow you to back up data directly on your storage media without using the local network, allowing you to bypass network delays and make your backups more efficient.
  4. Use a data de-duplication backup system (also known as "intelligent compression" or "single-instance storage") — You can reduce your storage needs by setting up a system that recognizes and overlooks redundant data when recording backups on disk or tape. Replicas are replaced with pointers to an original piece of data. This is especially useful for email files, where multiple users might have the same data stored on their systems. This process will save space in your system and require less energy and time if you later need to reference the backups.
  5. Plan ahead for outages and downtime — Nothing causes panic in the datacenter like a sudden power outage or potential data loss. Plan ahead for power emergencies by creating a plan of action and by testing your backup systems and generators regularly. Make sure they're in working order for when they're needed.
  6. Consolidate your servers with virtualization — By running multiple platforms and applications on a single server, you can reduce the amount of equipment required and the energy needed to run it. During your low-traffic hours, you can let some of your unneeded servers sleep, which cuts back on the cooling and power costs you'll need to run them.
  7. Use energy-efficient servers, power-supply units and components — When you're buying new equipment, look at how energy-efficient it is rather than just the initial purchase price. If it's not efficient, you'll be spending more on energy costs in the long run. If you have old equipment that doesn't meet today's standards, it could be time to upgrade. You can retire and recycle old legacy servers or find a non-profit or educational institution to donate them to.
  8. Optimize your air-conditioning settings — IT managers may spend a great deal of time customizing server and application settings without ever thinking about the facilities that surround them. Cooling systems usually also have economizer options that managers forget to turn on, but putting these into use can be another simple way to increase efficiency. Also, make sure that air conditioners are working together rather than fighting each other. If you have one system set to dehumidify an area and another is humidifying another area, this is an inefficient system and the layout of the datacenter may need to be redesigned.
  9. Configure your server rooms for efficiency — The configuration of your datacenter affects how hot your servers get and how much they need to be cooled. According to The Green Grid's recommendations, using a hot-aisle/cold-aisle configuration is an ideal layout for segregating cool and warm air.
  10. Communicate with IT — Datacenters are often viewed as separate and discrete from the IT department, but both can benefit from putting their heads together and brainstorming ways to improve power usage and distribution that are specific to the organization.