Keeping Cool as the temperature rises

Keeping Cool as the temperature rises

The first thing Brendan McColl and Mike Lockett do when they go into a data centre is check power availability.

McColl is an account manager, and Lockett, the operations manager, for Computer Site Solutions (CSS). The company has been designing and building data centres for more than 20 years. Both said power demand is increasing - and it's not getting any lighter or easier to handle.

"Power availability at the site is an issue - we never used to consume so much," Lockett said. "Fifteen years ago, 200 amps was sufficient to power a 300-400sqm data centre. Five years ago, 300 amps was sufficient but now it requires 500 amps at a minimum."

CSS has skilled up in installing uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) equipment so users can stay connected and protect their server applications, telecommunications network, computer/network rooms and essential services. It also has expertise in data centre cooling.

McColl said key markets for its services include office accommodation, schools, colleges, universities, hospital / medical environments, industrial / manufacturing sites, secure defence sites, construction projects, remote locations, and mining sites and smelters.

"Typical customers include ISPs, state and federal government and large manufacturers - it's the large mission-critical guys where a minute of downtime costs thousands," McColl said.

He said power use is being driven by the growing number of servers stacked in data centres - including blade servers - and the skyrocketing demand for computer services. "There are many factors to consider when dealing with a power solution that best suits the situation," McColl said. "It's very important that you get the design correct in the first place."

The drawing board

Part of the computer/network room design should include capacity planning and management. An assessment on fluid detection, electrical systems, raised access flooring, environmental monitoring, and process cooling (air conditioning) are other essential elements to consider.

CSS is seeing huge demand for data centre design at co-location facilities. "They have disaster recovery at their own offices because it's less critical, but have the high demand applications in a co-facility," McColl said.

The public sector is one major customer. McColl said there was a trend towards consolidating servers into a purpose-built facility in a bid to address power and cooling issues. Government had many departments, separate agencies, and a ton of mission-critical equipment which needed to work together. McColl said the larger the installation, the more power management moved away from a plug-and-play scenario.

"When you get into the larger apps, with built-in redundancy, it has to be designed," he said. "It needs a distribution load, a switchboard designed for the application, and needs an electrician. It all comes down to power distribution and it's not something a lay person, or an IT manger, is an expert on."

Advanced features

Recent UPS advancements in monitoring and control systems (whereby controllers will talk to each other) is making life easier for all involved, particularly in the double conversion UPS camp; the third UPS technology after offline and line-interactive, Lockett said.

Double conversion is ideal for mission-critical environments and server applications, he said. "It is a true UPS, which means it doesn't drop the power load. The others drop for 30 milliseconds."

The latest UPS products also feature consolidated monitoring and an alarm system, allowing IT or facilities managers to view information about the functioning of equipment on a handheld via SMS or an email. Power management can also initiate automatic actions depending on the events. It can control the power supply remotely and manage the electrical equipment more effectively.

Despite these advancements, a growing challenge in the UPS market is the flood of unbranded, rebadged gear, Lockett said.

"Unfortunately, many companies are happy to have a box - but they get what they pay for," he said. Another hurdle is getting older plants up to speed with the latest power requirements.

"In the past, the load profiles were low. Now with rack-based server solutions and high demands, the environment is changing rapidly. We are all trying to adapt to current technologies," Lockett said.

APC A/NZ country general manager, Gordon Makryllos, said resellers with power management expertise were increasingly being called for as Australian businesses tried to come to terms with a high density computing future.

"Power and cooling in the data centre is a hot topic, and getting even hotter as the demand on today's data centre continues to grow," he said. IDC reports data centre power density is increasing about 15 per cent annually. The costs associated with power and cooling will almost triple total hardware costs by 2009.

"Most IT shops will hit the wall and not be able to deploy new technologies or grow with the business because their physical infrastructure [of power, cooling, racks and cabling] does not give them the flexibility or capacity to take on more servers or storage or communication capacity," Makryllos said.

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