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Efficient data centers make companies less green

HP guru says infrastructure is king

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LinuxWorld Being green is obviously a huge concern for the tech industry. It doesn't take an industry microscope to see hardware vendors scampering to improve their hardware efficiency to appeal to folks sweating over the rising cost to power a data center.

But Christian Belady, Hewlett-Packard's "distinguished technologist" doesn't see tech efficiency as the be-all solution. In fact, it's a part of the problem. The real solution lies in infrastructure, he says.

Since joining HP in 1995, Belady has come up with more than 100 inventions to make hardware more powerful and energy efficient. The man is no spring chicken on such matters.

He claims the true culprit to data center energy woes is the dropping price of computation itself. More numbers being crunched for the same price has the unfortunate side-effect of application growth outstripping performance.

"People think by heading towards efficiency you are actually going to reduce cost," Belady told LinuxWorld in SanFrancisco today. "But if the cost goes down, demand goes up. If gas went down to 20 cents a gallon, I guarantee you I would take my house off the power grid and run on gas. I am fully supportive of going green, but I caution people to what the end result is."

Where the money goes in a data center has changed drastically since the 90s. Infrastructure and energy costs have at last exceeded server costs. While instrumentation and electrical costs were almost irrelevant in the past, they are now two times that of a 1U server today. The price of hardware has remained stable, but the expense to power and cool them has been creeping up behind us.

Boo. The electric bill sends the market into a green panic.

Let's take a look at Belady's roadmap to a solution:

First, companies need to start looking at the entirety of a data center as a computer. Businesses must completely analyze the implications of adding hardware into the data center before making acquisitions. Buying "green" hardware is fine, but infrastructure can no longer be overlooked. Basically, this equates to paying people to analyze their airflow.

Hardware vendors must agree on energy efficiency metrics. If companies can't measure it, they won't improve. hoBelady's pe for this kind of consolidation lies largely with The Green Grid, a consortium of technology companies bent on energy efficiency. Benchmarks for server efficiency such as SPEC and Power Usage Effectiveness for data centers must be broadly adopted.

In the future, guidelines need to be created to make the data center a plug and play environment. Having a common architecture with efficient cooling and heat dispersal will ultimately drive down costs and eliminate fragmentation. In Belady's future data center, if the IT staff adds a liquid-cooled rack, the water pipe can plug into the same spot regardless of manufacturer.

"When I bought my HD TV, I didn't have to rip out my infrastructure to add it in. That's where the data center needs to be."

Well, that all sounds nice. But it's a tall order, to say the least.

Consolidation with rivals isn't exactly the tech industry's forte. It's going to take a stronger strain of green fever to get that level of hand-holding. But hey, a distinguished technologist can dream. ®

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