Don’t Forget to Turn Off the Servers

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HP Blade ServersAfter looking at data center power consumption figures for my Green Building Elements post, as well as at the US EPA’s Report to Congress calling for improvements in this area, I have noticed a host of new products coming to market that address the issue.

Changes occur so rapidly in the world of technology that new problems — and new solutions — crop up every day. One of the most glaring problems for data centers right now is that their hundreds of servers stay on at full power all of the time. The simple, low-tech solution to this problem (namely, turning the servers OFF) turns out to really not be so simple after all.

In an article for, writer Bridget Botelho calls server shut downs (during holidays or off-hours) “the road not taken”. Facility operators interviewed for that article cite several reasons for keeping servers going at full capacity, among them fear of lost data and simple convenience. Some facilities also claim that it is hard to establish exactly when off-hours might be — after all, who can really predict demand for internet services?

Central to this issue seems to be the fact that people are just not confident of their ability to manually manage server operations. In response, entrepreneurs are developing — you guessed it — technological solutions, which reduce the human factor in this equation.

Automating Server Shut-Offs

In 2004, Bill Coleman, who had already successfully co-founded the company BEA Systems, started a new company called Cassatt Corp. Cassatt introduced its Active Power Management technology in 2007. This technology calculates when and how to power down based upon server interrelationships and application dependencies; it is also governed by policies set by facility administrators, such as known off-peak times or power company “demand curtailments”. Active Power Management works with existing hardware and software so that it can be implemented easily, without the high cost of reconfiguring entire systems, and Cassatt reports that in early tests, customers experienced up to a 50 percent reduction in power usage.

VMware, currently marketing its Distributed Resource Scheduler, which monitors usage and “intelligently allocates available resources among virtual machines”, is implementing an experimental feature of that product: Distributed Power Management (DPM). DPM consolidates workloads, powering down host machines when they are not needed and bringing them back online when demand resumes.

1E (a global company that provides Windows Management services and specialty PC tools) is also interested in growing its business in this direction, according to businessGreen blog’s August 2007 interview with Sumir Karayi, CEO at 1E. In that interview, Karayi points out that there is ample opportunity for businesses to apply power management strategies to existing infrastructure, rather than simply throwing away equipment and investing in newer model servers.

With data centers’ energy costs skyrocketing, administrators are actively looking for ways to reduce consumption. So the door is open to entrepreneurs like Bill Coleman, who told BusinessWeek Online Technology Editor Jim Kerstetter that he came out of retirement to start Cassatt because the “saw this opportunity, this problem coming.”

Image credit: Michael248


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