How Facilities and IT are Converging for Data Center Efficiency

How to get facilities and IT to work together to save energy in data centers? Server power is closely linked with energy to cool, ventilate, back up and convert power for it, which means it’s good to build bridges between the two now-siloed departments. But before that happens, both will need to shore up their own integration foundations.

These kinds of development are important because they lead to standardized ways of tackling data center energy efficiency. While the Facebooks, Googles, Yahoos and Ciscos of the world make headlines with their brand-new hyper-efficient data center designs, most of the market has to go a step at a time, fixing IT and facilities piecemeal. Technologies that help IT save energy before trying to tell chillers, fans and power backup units what to do, and visa versa, will be at a premium. Here are a few:

Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup Power Assure monitors servers’ real-world power use based on real-world data center needs, then organizes server utilization to grab extra computing power and shave up to half or more of a data center’s energy spend. It’s already interoperable with Intel Node Manager for Dell servers and iLo, IPMI or iDRAC interfaces for Dell 11G, HP ProLiant or IBM X-Series servers. Last week, the company also said it now works with  Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) Blade servers.

The Cisco UCS system that Power Assure is interoperating with integrates computing, storage and networking elements in one rack to cut switches and cabling, and improve airflow to cut energy use. Power Assure can interact with Cisco’s native XML interface for B-series Blade serviers or Intel Data Center Manager Interface (DCMI) for C-series Blade servers. Intel is working on server power and computing intelligence that can add to the store of data Power Assure works from.

As for facility-side integration, Power Assure is working with Swiss power gear giant and investor ABB. Power Assure CEO Brad Wurtz told me in an interview last month the company would demonstrate interoperability with ABB’s data center automation technology at September’s Data Center World show in Orlando, Fla. That’s an interesting potential model for IT-facilities integration to look out for, as it will bring ABB’s significant data center facilities expertise to the table.

San Francisco-based startup Modius, meanwhile, is tackling up to one half of a typical data center’s power used by the building itself — the cooling, air handling, power delivery, temperature and humidity monitoring, and all the other non-computing loads. These are often built by separate vendors, meaning there’s a lot of  room for integration.

Modius integrates a host of facility-side systems in a single database and automation platform, with about 20 partners and growing, including wireless sensor player RF Code and data center power distribution company STARLINE. The latter adds a store of super-accurate power data to Modius’s per-server calculations — important when some servers measure their own power use inaccurately, or not at all. In February, Modius integrated with data center IT watcher LogicMonitor, which gives it added insight into server energy and heating data. As for bridging the gap between facilities and IT, Modius partnered with data center IT monitoring vendor Nimsoft in September for more IT utilization data.

SynapSense, a Folsom, Calif.-based data center facility-side power management startup, already serves some big clients with the help of investor and strategic partner General Electric. It plans to expand into monitoring IT equipment as well, CEO Peter Van Deventer told me last month. Linking environmental controls like those SynapSense manages to IT platforms to do things like pre-cool hot-spots where a room full of servers is turned on all at once, or turn servers on in sequence to let chillers ramp up at the most efficient rate, represents another level of integration.

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How can data center IT and facilities prepare for their ultimate convergence?
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