Monday, October 13, 2014

Blueprint: SDN's Impact on Data Center Power/Cooling Costs

by Jeff Klaus, General Manager of DCM Solutions, Intel

The growing interest in software-defined networking (SDN) is understandable. Compared to traditional static networking approaches, the inherent flexibility of SDN compliments highly virtualized systems and environments that can expand or contract in an efficient business oriented way. That said, flexibility is not the main driver behind SDN adoption. Early adopters and industry watchers cite cost as a primary motivation.

SDN certainly offers great potential for simplifying network configuration and management, and raising the overall level of automation. However, SDN will also introduce profound changes to the data center. Reconfiguring networks on the fly introduces fluid conditions within the data center.

How will the more dynamic infrastructures impact critical data center resources – power and cooling?
In the past, 20 to 40 percent of data center resources were typically idle at any given time and yet still drawing power and dissipating heat. As energy costs have risen over the years, data centers have had to pay more attention to this waste and look for ways to keep the utility bills within budget. For example, many data centers have bumped up the thermostat to save on cooling costs.

These types of easy fixes, however, quickly fall short in the data centers associated with highly dynamic infrastructures. As network configurations change, so do the workloads on the servers, and network optimization must therefore take into consideration the data center impact.
Modern energy management solutions equip data center managers to solve this problem. They make it possible to see the big picture for energy use in the data center, even in environments that are continuously changing.  Holistic in nature, the best-in-class solutions automate the real-time gathering of power levels throughout the data center as well as server inlet temperatures for fine-grained visibility of both energy and temperature. This information is provided by today’s data center equipment, and the energy management solutions make it possible to turn this information into cost-effective management practices.

The energy management solutions can also give IT intuitive, graphical views of both real-time and historical data. The visual maps make it easy to identify and understand the thermal zones and energy usage patterns for a row or group of racks within one or multiple data center sites.

Collecting and analyzing this information makes it possible to evolve very proactive practices for data center and infrastructure management. For example, hot spots can be identified early, before they damage equipment or disrupt services. Logged data can be used to optimize rack configurations and server provisioning in response to network changes or for capacity planning.

Some of the same solutions that automate monitoring can also introduce control features. Server power capping can be introduced to ensure that any workload shifts do not result in harmful power spikes. Power thresholds make it possible to identify and adjust conditions to extend the life of the infrastructure.

To control server performance and quality of service, advanced energy management solutions also make it possible to balance power and server processor operating frequencies. The combination of power capping and frequency adjustments gives data center managers the ability to intelligently control and automate the allocation of server assets within a dynamic environment.

Early deployments are validating the potential for SDN, but data center managers should take time to consider the indirect and direct impacts of this or any disruptive technology so that expectations can be set accordingly. SDN is just one trend that puts more pressure on IT to be able to do more with less.

Management expects to see costs go down; users expect to see 100% uptime for the services they need to do their jobs. More than ever, IT needs the right tools to oversee the resources they are being asked to deploy and configure more rapidly. They need to know the impacts of any change on the resource allocations within the data center.

IT teams planning for SDN must also consider the increasing regulations and availability restrictions relating to energy in various locations and regions. Some utility companies are already unable to meet the service levels required by some data centers, regardless of price. Over-provisioning can no longer be considered a practical safety net for new deployments.

Regular evaluations of the energy situation in the data center should be a standard practice for technology planning. Holistic energy management solutions give data center managers many affordable tools for those efforts. Today’s challenge is to accurately assess technology trends before any pilot testing begins, and leverage an energy management solution that can minimize the pain points of any new technology project such as SDN.

About the Author




Jeff Klaus is the general manager of Data Center Manager (DCM) Solutions at Intel Corporation, where he has managed various groups for more than 13 years. He leads a global team that is pioneering data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions. A graduate of Boston College, Klaus also holds an MBA from Boston University. For more information, visit www.intel.com/datacentermanager

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