Volume 15, Number 48 -- December 4, 2006

Gartner Predicts Half of Data Centers Will Run Out of Power by 2008

Published: December 4, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

If you don't think power and cooling issue is a problem with data centers, then you are either one of the lucky companies with only modest computing requirements or you have never lived with a server cluster. But the analysts at Gartner have jumped on the power and cooling bandwagon, and now say that half of the data centers in the world are going to run out of power by the end of 2008.

Maybe the situation is worse than I thought, then, when I wrote Lean, Mean Green Machines three years ago.

Gartner did not, by the way, literally mean that data centers would go dark in two years after blowing some fuses or melting under their own heat. What Gartner did say was that by the end of 2008, 50 percent of the data centers in the world would not have enough power to meet the power and cooling requirements of the high-density computing gear that vendors are increasingly peddling.

Last Friday, Gartner kicked off its 25th annual Data Center Conference, and power and cooling issues took center stage. "With the advent of high density computer equipment such as blade servers, many data centers have maxed out their power and cooling capacity," explained Michael Bell, a vice president for research at Gartner. "It's now possible to pack racks with equipment requiring 30,000 watts per rack or more in connected load. This compares to only 2,000 to 3,000 watts per rack a few years ago."

Compute density has some benefits, if used properly. If you install water jackets on the server racks and create a lights-out environment, you can build a much smaller, more efficient data center. Part of the problem is that air is a wickedly inefficient means of cooling hot computers, so using less dense servers in a much bigger data center is not exactly a way to avoid the hassle of dealing with denser computing. Either way, IT and facilities managers have to do a lot of cost/benefit analysis to try to figure out how to better deliver efficient and affordable computing.

During the air-cooled computing era, which I will say ran from the late 1970s through the late 2000s, the power requirements from all of the non-IT equipment in the data center accounted for about 60 percent of the total energy consumption related to the data center. This energy was consumed by fans, pumps, and other cooling components. Gartner says that as the power requirements of IT gear continue to grow, energy costs will become the second largest operating cost in 70 percent of the data centers worldwide by 2009, following the cost of people and well ahead the cost of the IT gear itself.

Gartner is expecting a lot of innovation in the next three years, which will marry systems monitoring and management with power and cooling monitoring and management, so companies can cope with both aspects of their computing infrastructure and run jobs in such a way as to maximize performance and minimize energy use. Bell also said in a report culled from presentations at the conference that "although the power and cooling challenges will not be a perpetual problem, it is important for data center managers to focus on the electrical and cooling issue in the near team, and adopt these best practices to mitigate the problem before it results in equipment failure, downtime and high remediation costs."

That sounds like wishful thinking. The power and cooling issue is here to stay, unless computing moves off silicon and onto something that allows a lot more performance for a lot less energy.


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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Shannon O'Donnell,
Mary Lou Roberts, Victor Rozek, Kevin Vandever, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
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